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Free Resources: NOVA's New Online Game for Exploring the History of Life on Earth

Posted May 19, 2015
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NOVA, from WGBH Boston and PBS, has created a free online game for its growing NOVA Labs platform that helps players explore how human beings are related to the millions of species currently alive--and far more that have gone extinct over the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth--and to understand the process behind it: evolution.

In NOVA's Evolution Lab, phylogenetics--the study of the evolutionary relationships between species--is explored in depth as players evaluate similarities in the traits and DNA of species and conduct their own investigations in a virtual tree of life. Along the way, players can watch short animated videos that explain the evidence of evolution and illustrate it with specific examples.

NOVA's Evolution Lab contains two major components:

* Build A Tree: Players build phylogenetic trees themed around the evidence of evolution including fossils, biogeography, and similarities in DNA. Players use both morphology and analysis of DNA sequences to identify relationships between species and organize species and traits into phylogenetic trees.

* Deep Tree: Players explore an interactive tree of life and trace the shared ancestry of numerous species. Deep Tree helps players understand the scope of deep time and the points at which speciation occurred throughout the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

Build A Tree and Deep Tree--made available online for the first time--were developed by the Life on Earth project based at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and led by principal investigator Chia Shen, director of the Scientists' Discovery Room (SDR) Lab. Shen's team, including lead developer Florian Block and collaborators around the country, worked for several years to find the most effective ways to make the tree an open-ended space to explore how life formed and continues to evolve.

The Evolution Lab meets the need in science education for engaging digital resources that address the evidence for evolution and confront common misconceptions that make learners susceptible to confusion and doubt.

For educators looking to use the Evolution Lab with their students, there are built-in assessments in Build A Tree that check for understanding as well as educator resources that provides tips and content for teaching evolution.

NOVA Labs is partnering with prominent STEM education/advocacy organizations to promote the Evolution Lab to educators, including: the National Center for Science Education, Khan Academy, UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology, Shape of Life, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and more.

About NOVA Labs (
The Evolution Lab is the latest in a series of free, online STEM projects for teens and lifelong learners, called NOVA Labs, which first launched in April 2012 and is developed by WGBH Boston. Each Lab focuses on a different area of active research, but all of them illustrate key concepts with engaging and informative videos, and guide participants through games and interactives that foster authentic scientific exploration. The Sun Lab brings the feed from NASA solar telescopes to users, to help them understand and try to predict space weather that can affect us on Earth. The Energy Lab challenges users to design renewable energy systems for major cities based on realistic data models. The Cloud Lab leverages NASA earth science satellites to help users understand clouds and their role in weather and climate. The RNA Lab teaches users how to play a game called Eterna, where their RNA molecular designs might someday help scientists develop therapies to fight cancer and other diseases. The Cybersecurity Lab teaches users how to keep their digital lives safe, spot phishing scams, and understand the basics of coding.

Source: WGBH Boston,

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