Conceptual Change Learning in Biology – a study on the concept of regulation system.

University of Minho, Portugal

Supervisor: Professor Manuel Sequeira

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The present study tried to research if the achievement of an investigation in group made by the students leading to the solution of problems presented by the students themselves, can contribute to learning as a conceptual change of the concept of the regulation system.

The students carried out their investigation through the "curricular" development of the topic, "Biological Cycle of Man : hormonal regulation", which is part of the 11th Form subject - Science of Earth and Life - . The approach to this topic fitted the learning pattern as a conceptual change by Posner, Hewson and Thorley (1982,1992).

At first, all the students' concepts were spotted (in the experimental class as well as in the control class), mainly those related to the sub-concepts whose understanding is essential to build the concept of the regulation system and, in the end of this study, we checked the levels of formulation obtained in both classes, in comparison with those we had defined beforehand, according to the scientific pattern and the students' learning level.

As researching tools we used a questionnaire, an assessment table for evaluating the students' answers and the activities envolved in the study of the topic.

The analysis of the empirical bases enabled us to conclude that the learning of the topic was possible due to a conceptual change which was made in different degrees in the different concepts.

Consequently, the results deny the Khunian view, according to which the formulation of the scientific concepts is accomplished through dramatic changes therefore and form a gradual pattern of conceptual change, is formed.

The way the learning developed, agrees with the evolutionary concept and ecological process of conceptual change supported by Toulmin. Actually, the debates in both small groups and class, in addition to the consulted bibliography, made the students cope with different concepts that competed with their previous notions. Groups had to make a critical selection through which they were able to select the ideas they considered more suitable for the solution of the problems. These ideas were gradually being integrated in the intelectual achievement of the students.

Thus, the conceptual change was the result not only of an individual construction, but also of an interactive process within each group and within the class as a whole.

One of the aims of this study was to provide the students with the conditions that enable them to lay the scientific bases of their sexual education. Owing to the natural interest the students have in this subject, the conceptual change corresponded not only to a cognitive process but also to an affective one.

In the control class, where the traditional strategy of the teaching - learning process was followed, the students successfully reached the objectives of the official curriculum, but they didn't acquire the knowledge they need to treat the topic from a systemic point of view . In fact they didn't get the faintest idea of the concept of regulation - the main concept to understand how the human body works.

In this class we observed the conceptual change in three subconcepts only, but in inferior percentages to those we got in the experimental class.

Key words: error signal, homeostasis, reproduction control, regulation system, problem solving.

The thesis was submitted in accordance with the requirements for degree of PhD., University of Minho – Portugal. Thesis presented February 2001 and approved by general agreement.


Costa M. (1994). Conceptual change strategies in biology teaching : a study of the regulation concept. Science Metodology Departement – University of Minho Unpublished (in Portuguese).

Costa M. (1997). Student understanding about the epistemology of science. Published in Actas do 3º Encontro Nacional de Didácticas e Metodologias da Educação. Science Metodology Departement – University of Minho (in Portuguese).


Maria Ausenda Costa
Rua Ávaro Perdigão Nº 4 – 3ºD
Telefone : 265527667
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