History and Nature of Science enriched Problem-Based Learning on the origins of biodiversity and of continents and oceans

Cristina Sousa


The episode of the History of Science (HOS) on the theory of continental drift proposed by Alfred Wegener has been considered an excellent example for teaching students aspects of Nature of Science (NOS) and the relation of Science with social and tecnological contexts. We implemented a NOS and HOS-enriched Problem-Based Learning environment at the middle (year 7 of the Portuguese National Curriculum) and secondary level (year 10) for teaching the origins of biodiversity and of continents and oceans (mobilism). 

The goal of providing detailed implementation practices is to adress the lack of how to in Problem-based learning (PBL) implementation in classrooms for 12 to 16 year old students and is the first practical example of implementation using this episode of HOS for teaching geological mobilism integrated with evolution. Therefore, in this study, we provide specific suggestions for supporting teachers’ classroom efforts in implementing PBL, such as scaffolding.

The ill-problem presented to students, without a single correct answer, was based on the phylogeny of extant and extinct ratite birds, described by Charles Darwin and the present geographical distribution. The evaluation of the students was focused on the chain of reasoning employed, and we performed a comparisation analysis of the problem’s solution presented by the students of both classes regarding the explanation of the phylogeny of ratites based on geological mobilism. We observed an overall improvement (25-77%) of the percentages of students pre- and post-instruction adequate answers; therefore our PBL strategy was efficient. 


Problem-Based Learning; History of Science; Nature of Science; scaffolding; geological mobilism; biodiversity

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1. Bridging Darwin's Origin of Species & Wegener's Origin of Continents and Oceans:
Cristina Sousa
The American Biology Teacher  vol: 78  issue: 1  first page: 24  year: 2016  
doi: 10.1525/abt.2016.78.1.24

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