, Volume 18, Issue 10, pp 1313-1340
Date: 10 Aug 2008

Preliminary Evolutionary Explanations: A Basic Framework for Conceptual Change and Explanatory Coherence in Evolution

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Abstract

This study aimed to explore secondary students’ explanations of evolutionary processes, and to determine how consistent these were, after a specific evolution instruction. In a previous study it was found that before instruction students provided different explanations for similar processes to tasks with different content. Hence, it seemed that the structure and the content of the task may have had an effect on students’ explanations. The tasks given to students demanded evolutionary explanations, in particular explanations for the origin of homologies and adaptations. Based on the conclusions from the previous study, we developed a teaching sequence in order to overcome students’ preconceptions, as well as to achieve conceptual change and explanatory coherence. Students were taught about fundamental biological concepts and the several levels of biological organization, as well as about the mechanisms of heredity and of the origin of genetic variation. Then, all these concepts were used to teach about evolution, by relating micro-concepts (e.g. genotypes) to macro-concepts (e.g. phenotypes). Moreover, during instruction students were brought to a conceptual conflict situation, where their intuitive explanations were challenged as emphasis was put on two concepts entirely opposed to their preconceptions: chance and unpredictability. From the explanations that students provided in the post-test it is concluded that conceptual change and explanatory coherence in evolution can be achieved to a certain degree by lower secondary school students through the suggested teaching sequence and the explanatory framework, which may form a basis for teaching further about evolution.