Science & Education

, Volume 18, Issue 10, pp 1313–1340 | Cite as

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

  • Kostas Kampourakis
  • Vasso Zogza


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.


Conceptual Change Evolutionary Explanation Teaching Sequence Explanatory Framework Teaching Unit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Abrams E, Southerland S, Cummins C (2001) The how’s and why’s of biological change: how learners neglect physical mechanisms in their search for meaning. Int J Sci Educ 23:1271–1281. doi: 10.1080/09500690110038558 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alters B (2005) Teaching biological evolution in higher education: methodological, religious and nonreligious issues. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, SudburyGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson DL, Fisher KM, Norman GJ (2002) Development and evaluation of a conceptual inventory of natural selection. J Res Sci Teach 39(10):952–978. doi: 10.1002/tea.10053 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ariew A (2003) Ernst Mayr’s ‘ultimate/proximate’ distinction reconsidered and reconstructed. Biol Philos 18:553–565. doi: 10.1023/A:1025565119032 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banet E, Ayuso GE (2003) Teaching of biological inheritance and evolution of living beings in secondary school. Int J Sci Educ 25(3):373–407. doi: 10.1080/09500690210145716 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beatty J (1994) The proximate/ultimate distinction in the multiple careers of Ernst Mayr. Biol Philos 9:333–356. doi: 10.1007/BF00857940 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beatty J (1995) The evolutionary contingency thesis. In: Wolters G, Lennox JG (eds) Concepts, theories, and rationality in the biological sciences: the second Pittsburgh-Konstanz colloquium in the philosophy of science. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, pp 45–81Google Scholar
  8. Beatty J (2006) Replaying life’s tape. J Philos CIII(7):336–362Google Scholar
  9. Bishop BA, Anderson CW (1990) Student conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution. J Res Sci Teach 27:415–427. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660270503 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bloom P, Weisberg DS (2007) Childhood origins of adult resistance to science. Science 316:996–997. doi: 10.1126/science.1133398 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brem SK, Ranney M, Schindel J (2003) Perceived consequences of evolution: college students perceive negative personal and social impact in evolutionary theory. Sci Educ 87(2):181–206. doi: 10.1002/sce.10105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carey S (2000) Science education as conceptual change. J Appl Dev Psychol 21(1):13–19. doi: 10.1016/S0193-3973(99)00046-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Conway Morris S (2003) Life’s solution: inevitable humans in a lonely universe. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Dagher ZR, Boujaoude S (1997) Scientific views and religious beliefs of college students: the case of biological evolution. J Res Sci Teach 34(5):429–445. doi :10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199705)34:5<429::AID-TEA2>3.0.CO;2-SCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dagher ZR, Boujaoude S (2005) Students’ perceptions of the nature of evolutionary theory. Sci Educ 89:378–391. doi: 10.1002/sce.20054 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Darwin C (1859) On the origin of species by means of natural selection, 1st edn. John Murray, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Demastes SS, Settlage J, Good R (1995) Students’ conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution: cases of replication and comparison. J Res Sci Teach 32(5):535–550. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660320509 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Demastes SS, Good RG, Peebles P (1996) Patterns of conceptual change in evolution. J Res Sci Teach 33(4):407–431. doi :10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199604)33:4<407::AID-TEA4>3.0.CO;2-WCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Evans EM (2001) Cognitive and contextual factors in the emergence of diverse belief systems: creation versus evolution. Cognit Psychol 42:217–266. doi: 10.1006/cogp.2001.0749 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Godfrey-Smith P (2003) Theory and reality: an introduction to the philosophy of science. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  21. Gould SJ (1989/2000) Wonderful life: the Burgess Shale and the nature of history. Vintage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Halldén O (1988) The evolution of species: pupil perspectives and school perspectives. Int J Sci Educ 10(5):541–552. doi: 10.1080/0950069880100507 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hempel C, Oppenheim P (1948) Studies in the logic of explanation. Philos Sci 15:135–175. doi: 10.1086/286983. Reprinted in Pitt J (ed) (1988) Theories of explanation. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 9–50Google Scholar
  24. Hewson PW, Hewson MGA (1984) The role of conceptual conflict in conceptual change and the design of science instruction. Instr Sci 13:1–13. doi: 10.1007/BF00052381 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ingram EL, Nelson CE (2006) Relationship between achievement and students’ acceptance of evolution or creation in an upper-level evolution course. J Res Sci Teach 43(1):7–24. doi: 10.1002/tea.20093 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jensen MS, Finley FN (1996) Changes in students’ understanding of evolution resulting from different curricular and instructional strategies. J Res Sci Teach 33(8):879–900. doi :10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199610)33:8<879::AID-TEA4>3.0.CO;2-TCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jiménez-Aleixandre MP (1992) Thinking about theories or thinking with theories: a classroom study with natural selection. Int J Sci Educ 14(1):51–61. doi: 10.1080/0950069920140106 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kampourakis K (2006) The finches’ beaks: introducing evolutionary concepts. Sci Sc 29(6):14–17Google Scholar
  29. Kampourakis K, Zogza V (2007) Students’ preconceptions about evolution: how accurate is the characterization as “Lamarckian” when considering the history of evolutionary thought? Sci & Educ 16(3–5):393–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kampourakis K, Zogza V (2008) Students’ intuitive explanations of the causes of homologies and adaptations. Sci & Educ 17(1):27–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kelemen D (1999) The scope of teleological thinking in pre-school children. Cognition 70:241–272. doi: 10.1016/S0010-0277(99)00010-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kelemen D (2003) British and American children’s preferences for teleo-functional explanations of the natural world. Cognition 88:201–221. doi: 10.1016/S0010-0277(03)00024-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kitcher P (1981) Explanatory unification. Philos Sci 48(4):507–531. doi: 10.1086/289019. Reprinted in Pitt J (ed) (1988) Theories of explanation. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 167–187Google Scholar
  34. Kitcher P (1989) Explanatory unification and the causal structure of the world. In: Kitcher P, Salmon WC (eds) Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science, vol 13: scientific explanation. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp 410–505Google Scholar
  35. Lawson AE, Worsnop WA (1992) Learning about evolution and rejecting a belief in special creation: effects of reflective reasoning skill, prior knowledge, prior belief and religious commitment. J Res Sci Teach 29(2):143–166. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660290205 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lombrozo T, Carey S (2006) Functional explanation and the function of explanation. Cognition 99:167–204. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2004.12.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mayr E (1961) Cause and effect in biology. Science 131:1501–1506. doi: 10.1126/science.134.3489.1501 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mayr E (2002) What evolution is. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  39. McComas WF, Abraham-Silver L, Ma L (2006) Cognitive challenges in evolution education: fundamental misconceptions of the science of evolutionary biology. In: McComas WF (ed) Investigating evolutionary biology in the laboratory, vol 63. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, DubuqueGoogle Scholar
  40. Miller JD, Scott EC, Okamoto S (2006) Public acceptance of evolution. Science 313:765–766. doi: 10.1126/science.1126746 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Palmer DH (1999) Exploring the link between students’ scientific and nonscientific conceptions. Sci Educ 83(6):639–653. doi :10.1002/(SICI)1098-237X(199911)83:6<639::AID-SCE1>3.0.CO;2-OCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Passmore C, Stewart J (2002) A modeling approach to teaching evolutionary biology in high schools. J Res Sci Teach 39(3):185–204. doi: 10.1002/tea.10020 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Posner GJ, Strike KA, Hewson PW, Gertzog WA (1982) Accommodation of a scientific conception: toward a theory of conceptual change. Sci Educ 66:211–227. doi: 10.1002/sce.3730660207 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rosenberg A (2001) How is biological explanation possible? Br J Philos Sci 52:735–760. doi: 10.1093/bjps/52.4.735 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rosenberg A (2005) Philosophy of science: a contemporary introduction, 2nd edn. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  46. Salmon WC (1984) Scientific explanation and the causal structure of the world. Princeton University Press, Princeton (chapters 5 and 6 reprinted in Pitt J (ed) (1988) Theories of explanation. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 79–118)Google Scholar
  47. Salmon WC (1990) Scientific explanation: causation and unification. Crit Rev Hisp Filo 22(66):3–21. Reprinted in Balashov Y, Rosenberg A (eds) (2002) Philosophy of science: contemporary readings. Routledge, London, pp 92–105Google Scholar
  48. Samarapungavan A, Wiers RW (1997) Children’s thoughts on the origin of species: a study of explanatory coherence. Cogn Sci 21(2):147–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Scriven M (1959) Explanation and prediction in evolutionary theory. Science 130:477–482. doi: 10.1126/science.130.3374.477 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Settlage J (1994) Conceptions of natural selection: a snapshot of the sense-making process. J Res Sci Teach 31(5):449–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sinatra GM, Southerland SA, McConaughy F, Demastes W (2003) Intentions and beliefs in students’ understanding and acceptance of biological evolution. J Res Sci Teach 40(5):510–528. doi: 10.1002/tea.10087 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith MU, Siegel H (2004) Knowing, believing, and understanding: what goals for science education? Sci & Educ 13:553–582. doi: 10.1023/ CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith MU, Siegel H, McInerney JD (1995) Foundational issues in evolution education. Sci & Educ 4:23–46. doi: 10.1007/BF00486589 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sober E (2003) Contingency or Inevitability? What would happen if the evolutionary tape were replayed? A review of Simon Conway Morris’s life’s solution—inevitable humans in a lonely universe. New York Times, November 30Google Scholar
  55. Sommers T, Rosenberg A (2003) Darwin’s nihilistic idea: evolution and the meaninglessness of life. Biol Philos 18:653–668. doi: 10.1023/A:1026311011245 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Southerland SA, Abrams E, Cummins CL, Anzelmo J (2001) Understanding students’ explanations of biological phenomena: conceptual frameworks or p-prims? Sci Educ 85:328–348. doi: 10.1002/sce.1013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sterelny K (2005) Another view of life (essay review). Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci 36:585–593. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2005.07.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Strevens M (2004) The causal and unification approaches to explanation unified—causally. Nous 38(1):154–176. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2004.00466.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Strevens M (2009) Depth: an account of scientific explanation. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  60. Szathmáry E (2005) Life’s solution: inevitable humans in a lonely universe—Simon Conway Morris. Biol Philos 20:849–857. doi: 10.1007/s10539-004-0942-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Thagard P (1989) Explanatory coherence. Behav Brain Sci 12(3):435–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Thagard P (1992) Conceptual revolutions. Princeton University Press, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  63. Waters KC (2003) The arguments in the origin of species. In: Hodge J, Radick G (eds) Cambridge companion to Darwin. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 116–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Woodward J (2003) Making things happen: a theory of causal explanation. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  65. Wright L (1973) Functions. Philos Rev 82(2):139–168. doi: 10.2307/2183766 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geitonas SchoolAthensGreece
  2. 2.Department of Sciences of Education and Early Childhood EducationUniversity of PatrasRion, PatrasGreece

Personalised recommendations