Utah Valley University
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This page first made public: May 21, 2009
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This is a simple exercise where students construct a phenogram using a collection of different fossils or random objects.
upper-division undergraduate paleo course, required for BS Geology degree
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
fundamental concepts regarding systematics and phylogenetic reconstruction
How the activity is situated in the course
stand-alone exercise, very early in the semester
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
analysis of data, formulation of hypotheses, synthesis of ideas, critical evaluation of competing models, etc.
Other skills goals for this activity
peer teaching, working in groups, etc.
Description of the activity/assignment
Prior to this exercise, I introduce some fundamental concepts regarding systematics and phylogenetic reconstruction. I do it early in the semester because I like to have the students thinking about these things while we are discussing the major fossil groups later in the semester. The exercise is simple: students construct a phenogram using a collection of objects -- could be fossils, or toy animals, or whatever. I use about ten things. At first, students think it'll be easy. They soon realize how difficult it is to identify characters that group some taxa but exclude others. Obviously, the particular taxa you choose can make the exercise more or less difficult. I should also mention that I require the students to produce a dendrogram with strictly dichotomous branching. I explicitly refer to it as a phenogram because I allow students to use whatever characters they wish, and it isn't even necessary that they be able to recognize the organisms. Inevitably, this exercise leads to discussions about the importance of phylogenetically informative characters.
Determining whether students have met the goals
observe students in classMore information about assessment tools and techniques.
Download teaching materials and tips
Activity Description/Assignment:phenogram exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 63kB May21 09)