As you'll read below, Gavin had a few concerns about the focus of my project proposal, but I met with hi a few days before writing this, and we both came to a consensus to focus on what is best described as "tree-thinking". Namely, having an understanding of what a phylogenetic tree is, what we can use it for, and, in many ways secondarily to our understanding of this, how they are made. So I have a bundle of literature to dig into to have a nice rich historical understanding of the development of phylogenetics as a modern field, as it conjoins into systematics and biodiversity.
Considering your focus on systematics and phylogenetics, here are a number of papers I would like you to read in preparation for your written exams. Having looked over your project outline, it has become evident that you will be calling on a broad selection of biological and evolutionary concepts to test your various questions. I do work at a natural history museum, but I can't serve as an expert in these areas of educational methods or research.
However, I can help with evolution and phylogenetics. I would recommend that you focus on a core area in evolution to use as your test case. If you are going to focus on large-scale evolutionary patterns or concepts, I can help. If you are going to focus on population level concepts, genetic drift, or other mechanistic areas, you will need to target a professor with that expertise.
I think using phylogenetics and evolution would be a great area to focus with the public and within your project. The misconceptions surrounding a phylogeny and deep evolutionary patterns are plentiful. This series of papers sets up the justification for using phylogenetics, but ultimately you could address questions the public typically has like:
What purpose does that animal serve?
Is that animal successful?
We came from monkeys.
Each of these are loaded with misconceptions about how evolution works, which can be explained through phylogenetics.
My recommendation to you at this point is to narrow your testing area so the content you are working with is more definable. If you want to visit the museum soon, we can meet and go over this in person if you would like. I like where you are going with this, but I think your concepts are too broad. It would be good to have focus on a known societal misconception and use that as your theme throughout the project. The project become the proof of concept to work on other misconceptions beyond the term of your degree.
de Pinna, M. C. C. (1991). Concepts and tests of homology in the cladistics paradigm. Cladistics, 7(4), 367–394. Retrieved from
Hawkins, J. A. (2000). A survey of primary homology assessment: different botanists perceive and define characters in different ways. In Homology & Systematics: coding characters for phylogenetic analysis (pp. 22–53).
Helfenbein, K. G., & DeSalle, R. (2005). Falsifications and corroborations: Karl Popper’s influence on systematics. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
Hennig, W. (1979). The Position of systematics among the biological sciences University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1-99. In Phylogenetic Systematics (pp. 1–99). University of Illinois Press.
Patterson, C. (1988). Homology in classical and molecular biology, 5(6), 603–625.
Pickett, K. M., & Pickett, K. M. (2005). The new and improved PhyloCode, now with types, ranks, and even polyphyly: a conference report from the First International Phylogenetic Nomenclature Meeting. Cladistics, 21(79–82), 170.
Rieppel, O. (2006). The PhyloCode : a critical discussion of its theoretical foundation. Cladistics, 22, 186–197.
Sereno, P. (2005). The Logical Basis of Phylogenetic Taxonomy. Systematic Biology, 54(4), 595–619.