I study how evolution is understood. Within the biology education community, I research how students overcome the conceptual difficulties surrounding evolution. Within the evolutionary biology community, I research the ecological and phylogenetic influences on anatomical characteristics.
Students’ conceptual understanding of evolution—NESCent EvoCI Toolkit
One of the best approaches for teaching conceptually difficult topics is for instructors to target commonly held misconceptions. However, most of the evolutionary misconceptions that have been studied to date are about natural selection. I am co-Principal Investigator (with Dr. Kathryn E. Perez, University of Wisconsin at La Crosse) of a grant from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) to explore students’ misconceptions about evolution more broadly and to develop concept inventories (CIs), research-based tools for quickly assessing students’ conceptual understanding of particularly challenging scientific concepts. Our Working Group is developing concept inventories for genetic drift, evo-devo, dominance-recessive relationships and population thinking.
I have developed numerous activities for teaching evolution. These activities help students engage and learn in a supportive classroom where they can seek clarification. The feedback that students provide during the activities helps instructors tailor their teaching to the students’ needs. The activities introduce unique analogies for understanding science. For example, in “Performing evolution: role-play simulations” (Price 2011), the analogy asks students to act as predators and prey. The predator-students hunt prey-students, selecting prey by identifying certain postures. Students use this performance as a model for developing their own simulations about other mechanisms that drive change in populations. In “Global Climate Change: What does it look like?” (Carnell & Price 2012), a case study co-written with a student, a science fiction story inspires students to learn how the history of life informs us about today’s global climate change. “How we got here: evolutionary changes in skull shape in humans and their ancestors” uses research in human evolution as an example of the nature of science (Price 2012). This activity demonstrates that variation in the development of hominine skulls is fodder for evolutionary change, introducing the sub-discipline of evolution and development. The activity also models a paradigm shift when students consider the 2009 discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus and re-interpret the skull shape of the most recent common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.
Since arriving at UWB, I have been studying the effects of different ecological variables on the marine snail, Nucella lamellosa. I am documenting the variation that exists in growth rates and eating rates. This research is particularly well-suited to undergraduate research experience and builds on prior work that provided novel insight into the adaptive value of shell ornamentation (Price 2003). To explain why the individuals of N. lamellosa in intertidal populations are so much smaller than individuals in subtidal populations, I conducted a laboratory study to test the hypothesis that daily episodes of emersion impede growth more than daily episodes of limiting food (Price in press). My results supported the hypothesis. Therefore, the difference in size between intertidal and subtidal individuals may be due, at least in part, to phenotypic plasticity.
A collaborative study interprets the evolutionary history of a group of sea slugs in the genus Philine and describes five new species (Price, Valdés et al. 2011). The genus Philine has over 90 species, but the external anatomy of the species is remarkably uniform. We described species whose internal anatomy is similar to the type species, P. aperta (Linnaeus 1767) to identify anatomical features that are systematically informative, such as the secondary branching of the prostate gland and gizzard plates that are ornamented with pores. These features allowed us to recognize new species and articulate the differences among species that had been synonymized previously, demonstrating more broadly that new anatomical analyses provide new insight into assessing diversity more deeply. These features can also inspire new research that tests hypotheses of function (similar to the approach in Price 2003), to see if they offer any selective advantage. We published this analysis of the genus Philine in one of the few journals that specializes in molluscan systematics.
I encourage undergraduates who are interested in independent study to contact me. Authentic research experiences are so enlightening! Most students won’t pursue careers in biology, but many components of research offer practical experience important for anyone: you will learn to use and interpret statistics; understand how to organize research with a hypothesis, test, and revision; and you will learn elementary computer programming and database design which will help you compose their own programs and databases. We can work together to identify a project for you to study.
(* indicates undergraduate collaborator)
Price RM. 2012. How we got here: evolutionary changes in skull shape in humans and their ancestors. American Biology Teacher. 74(2): 106-110. DOI: 10.1525/abt.2012.74.2.8.
Carnell R* and Price RM. 2012. Global Climate Change: What does it look like? National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, from http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/collection/detail.asp?case_id=624&id=624
Price RM. 2011. Performing evolution: role-play simulations. Evolution: Education & Outreach. 4: 83-94. DOI: 10.1007/s12052-010-0300-7.
Price RM. 2011. Introducing the nature of science through a required research-based course. CUR Q on the Web. 32: 5-6.
Price RM, Valdés A, and Gosliner TM. 2011. Phylogeny of the aperta clade in the genus Philine (Gastropoda: Opisthobranchia). Veliger. 51: 1-58.
Price RM, Rosypal AC, Powell T, and Kern B. 2008. Adapting an annual research symposium to recruit under-represented minorities to post-college education. Journal of College Science Teaching. 38(2): 49-53.
Droege J, Kochhar-Lindgren G, Leadley S, Price RM, Rosenberg BR, and Tippens N. 2008. University of Washington Bothell. In A. M. Griffin & J. Romm (Eds.), Exploring the evidence, Vol. IV: Reporting research on first-year seminars (pp. 83-87). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. Stable URL: http://www.sc.edu/fye/resources/fyr/pdf/MExpEvid_IV.pdf
Price RM. 2003. The columellar muscle of neogastropods: muscle attachment and the function of columellar folds. Biological Bulletin. 205: 351-366. Stable URL: www.jstor.org/stable/1543298
Jablonski D, Roy K, Valentine JW, Price RM, and Anderson PS. 2003. The impact of the Pull of the Recent on the history of marine diversity. Science. 300: 1133-1135. DOI: 10.1126/science.1083246.
Price RM. 2002. Columellar folds-why are they there? American Conchologist. 30: 8-9.
Price RM. 2001. Review of Ancient Invertebrates and Their Living Relatives by Harold L. Levin. Journal of Geology. 110(1): 122.