New ways to look at the Tree of Life November 21 2015, 1 Comment

I have two new posters that do a good job showing the history and diversity of life. The first is just out from Fairhope Graphics, and it is called “A History of Existing Angiosperms.” The many branches of flowering plants show up very well on this poster. You can see why there’s more to flowering plant lineages than monocots and dicots. The timescale on the left of this poster could lead to confusion, so you will need to explain to your children that all the pictures show flowering plants that still exist. Each illustration is placed at the time when we think its lineage originated. 

An important qualifier for this information – plant fossils are so much harder to find than large vertebrate fossils. Paleobotanists have to piece the story together from small, hard-to-preserve fragments, not large bones, so it could well be that a number of these plants will have a different age of origin as scientists obtain more fossil data. That should not detract from the information show here, however.

You can see from this poster that the plants had developed their major lineages before the K-Pg (K-T) extinction, and these lineages survived much better than the large vertebrates. The poster has the number of species and the common names of a few members for each lineage.

Look for the three main branches of angiosperms, the magnoliids, the monocots, and the eudicots, on the poster. You can also find two large branches of the eudicots, the rosids and the asterids. The rosids split into the fabids and the malvids. The asterid subdivisions are the lamiids and campanulids. These seem like a bunch of big meaningless names until you put a flower image with them, so this Fairhope Graphics poster will help make the lineages more memorable.

Fairhope Graphics also has useful posters on the lineages of birds, the Tree of Life at a simple and more advanced level, and the history of the Earth.

My second recently acquired poster is from a company called Evogeneao, which they explain on their website is short for evolutionary genealogy. The motto of this organization is “Life on Earth is one big extended family.”  Their “Evolution Cousin” poster shows their branching diagram for all of life, along with several familiar organisms and a number that reflects their relationship to us. For instance, your cat is your 27 millionth cousin. You can also get a larger poster that features the Tree of Life as the main graphic and gives information about it. These posters would be great for an impressionistic lesson on the Tree of Life. If you decide to use one of these posters in your classroom (or even if you do not) you will find it useful to read the Tree of Life page under the “Learn” menu on the Evogeneao website.

Under the “Explore” menu there, you can select “Tree of Life Explorer.” When you can click on an organism, you will see lines appear from humans and the selected organism. These lines meet at the most recent common ancestor. It is a very cool illustration of our relation to all of life.

Print-it-yourself posters, From the Biosphere to Atoms November 16 2014, 0 Comments

Now you can purchase a file for printing 13 posters that illustrate the levels of life’s structural organization. The levels are the biosphere, biomes, ecosystems, biological communities, populations, individual organisms, organ systems, organs and tissues, cells, organelles, macromolecules, small building block molecules, and atoms.

This framework is an important part of life science literacy that is seldom shown all at once, and children will benefit from seeing it. My book, From the Biosphere to Atoms: A Teacher’s Guide to the Organization of the Living World, has basic concepts and lessons that go with each level of organization. It is available both as a printed book and as an “e-book,” a PDF file of the book that you can view on your computer or print for yourself.

You may notice a few changes on the new PDF of the posters. The talented artist who colored the posters made the mitochondria green, and it would have been difficult to have her redo that color at the time the originals were colored. Recently I figured out how to use Photoshop to overlay a different color, so now the mitochondria are orange-toned, better in my opinion for an organelle that deals in energy and less likely to be confused with chloroplasts.

We have a few of the printed posters still available, but instead of reprinting it, I decided to make the file available for schools to print their own. When a poster gets something spilled on it, gets torn or damaged, or just wears out, you can reprint it for your classroom. You can print the file at full scale on 11” X 14” cardstock or shrink it to a smaller size. The text is large enough to read when the posters are printed on 8.5” X 11” (letter-sized) paper. Please note that the copyright gives you permission to print the file for your classroom and for two more classrooms in the same school. Please ask others to purchase their own file for printing and please do not share the file.

Do you use these posters? How do children react to them? I would enjoy hearing about your experiences with this material.

A note to international buyers: These posters show North American biomes, ecosystem, and biological community. The organisms are a Ponderosa pine tree and a native squirrel. You may wish to add illustrations of your local ecosystem and organisms. The organ is a trachea from the respiratory system of the squirrel, but is similar in appearance to that of most mammals. The tissues, cells, molecules, and atoms posters are useful anywhere. Montessori Downunder in New Zealand has a black and white set of these posters that show the biosphere centered on the Southern Hemisphere and native New Zealand marine mammals.

Priscilla Spears