Source Institutions

Source Institutions

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This activity lets learners participate in the process of reconstructing a phylogenetic tree and introduces them to several core bioinformatics concepts, particularly in relation to evolution. Groups of learners (at least 10) repeat a secret message (five to seven similar-sounding words) like the game "Telephone". In this version of the game, however, learners write and then code what they hear, creating a model of a phylogenetic tree and using a species distance matrix. This resource includes background information about phylogenetic trees, maximum parsimony, and matrix theory (see page 6-7 of PDF).

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Game, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A predetermined "secret message" written on a slip of paper
  • A blackboard or whiteboard
  • Small slips of paper for writing down the secret message
  • Paper for reconstructing the path of the message
  • Pencils


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Computing
      • Computer Science
      • Information Systems
    • Engineering
      • Computer Engineering
  • Life Sciences
    • Evolution
      • Human Evolution
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • Human Genetics
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Patterns
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Representation
    • Number and Operations
      • Number Systems
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving

Informal Categories

  • Computers
  • Games


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • hear
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Sources:

  • Brian Mason Scientific and Technical Trust
  • Google Inc.