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An examination of problem-based teaching and learning in population genetics and evolution using EVOLVE, a computer simulation

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This study describes a lesson in which students engaged in inquiry in evolutionary biology in order to develop a better understanding of the concepts and reasoning skills necessary to support knowledge claims about changes in the genetic structure of populations, also known as microevolution. This paper describes how a software simulation called EVOLVE can be used to foster discussions about the conceptual knowledge used by advanced secondary or introductory college students when investigating the effects of natural selection on hypothetical populations over time. An experienced professor's use and rationale of a problem-based lesson using the simulation is examined. Examples of student misconceptions and naïve (incomplete) conceptions are described and an analysis of the procedural knowledge for experimenting with the computer model is provided. The results of this case study provide a model of how EVOLVE can be used to engage students in a complex problem-solving experience that encourages student meta-cognitive reflection about their understanding of evolution at the population level. Implications for teaching are provided and ways to improve student learning and problem solving in population genetics are suggested.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Beloit College, 700 College Street, Beloit, WI 53511, USA' e-mail: 2: Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY 13323, USA' e-mail:

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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