Recognizing purposeful evolution: A treasure trove of prompts

 

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Can you imagine typing all of these test questions in, one card at a time?

I was recently cleaning out my teaching lab and found a stash of index cards with test items from the early 1950s. As I was trying to decide whether to keep them or toss them in the recycling bin, I idly looked at a few. Out of the million or so* test questions, the first one I picked up happened to be from a category called “recognizing purposeful language.” Immediately, I perked up, as “evolution to serve a purpose” is one of the misconceptions that I think most about. (See, for example, my prior blog posts on Clever Cockroaches and on the Evolution game.)

Some of the cards come in pairs, one with a purposeful tone and one without. If I were writing a clicker question to help students learn to recognize purposeful language, I could present both statements and ask them to choose the purposeful one. For example:

Which of these sentences uses purposeful language to describe a biological process?

  • Cactus plants have thorns, which protect them from many animals.
  • Cactus plants have thorns to protect them from many animals.

Here’s another one:

Which of these sentences uses purposeful language to describe a biological process?

  • Food accumulates in the seeds of many plants to supply the embryo (young plant in the seed) with food.
  • Food accumulates in the seeds of many plants and supplies the embryo (young plant in the seed) with food.

 

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This card has one of my favorites: “Carrots grow beneath the ground to avoid being eaten by rabbits.”

Then, when the students get more advanced, they could pick out the one sentence out of four that uses proper language rather than purposeful language. For example:

Which of these sentences uses proper (unpurposeful) language to describe a biological process?

  • Plants bend toward a light so that the greatest possible leaf surface will be exposed to the light.
  • Leaves have stomates so that they may get rid of excess water.
  • Some seeds have a hard coat to protect the young embryo.
  • A plant without oxygen cannot live because oxygen is necessary for certain plant processes.

I’m curious how many teachers share my concern about this misconception; those who do might be interested in the entire list of prompts from the index cards. If you want to see them all, send in a comment and I’ll email you the Word document. Happy teaching!

*slight exaggeration

This entry was posted in Assessment, Evolution, Teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Recognizing purposeful evolution: A treasure trove of prompts

  1. Gaffin, Douglas D. says:

    Great post Mariëlle!

  2. richmansopo says:

    I’d like to see the list from the index cards.

  3. pvanzand says:

    Yes! I harp on these all the time in my class, but under a different name: evolutionary teleologies. I’d love to have a copy of the list.

  4. Loriann says:

    I would interested! Thanks for the neat post!

  5. Nicole says:

    I too am interested in receiving a copy of the index card list. Many thanks!

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