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Countering Common Misconceptions of Evolution in the Paleontology Classroom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2017

Keith B. Miller*
108 Thompson Hall, Department of Geology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506 USA
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Students will come to class with misconceptions about evolution and about the nature of science itself. Erroneous views that create obstacles to teaching evolution include: 1) that the fossil record does not support evolutionary continuity between different taxonomic groups; 2) that the expected temporal pattern of evolution is linear and ladder-like; and 3) that evolutionary hypotheses are not subject to scientific testing. These views negatively impact the understanding of evolutionary science, particularly paleontology, in a number of ways. It is important that these misconceptions be recognized and explicitly countered. If student's false ideas are left unaddressed, new knowledge presented in the classroom will likely simply be superimposed on, or integrated with them. Effective teaching thus requires that we not only impart new knowledge, but seek to correct previously held false ideas. This essay presents several teaching strategies that can address misconceptions about evolution. These include: 1) teaching important concepts in their historical context; 2) having students construct and interpret cladograms; and 3) showing that, when interpreted as evolutionary trees, cladograms make testable predictions of the fossil record.

Research Article
Copyright © 2012 by The Paleontological Society 

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