Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Mehrtens, Charlotte J.


Over the past thirty years, the presence of naïve notions, or alternate conceptions in a student population, have been consistently identified as playing a key role in the inability for students to understanding evolutionary theory (Brumby, 1979; Greene, 1990; Settlage, 1994; Ferrari and Chi, 1998). Ferrari and Chi (1998) document that most naïve notions associated with evolution education can be linked to mistaken ontological categorizations, where students associated evolutionary concepts with event process (where organisms determine implicitly or explicitly their destiny) instead of equilibration processes (ongoing, nondistinct actions) to which they belong. Research in the remediation of naïve knowledge (Ferrari and Chi, 1998; Bishop and Anderson, 1990) suggest the best way to overcome these “naïve notions” is by utilizing curriculum that (a) assess students misunderstandings, (b) present students with situations that cause them to contrast these misconceptions with current scientific theory, and to (c) gives students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned, and explore this new information through guided learning activities. Based on this research, a teaching methodology that incorporated constructivist pedagogy with inquiry based methods, and framed the study of evolution within palentological context was tested on a classroom of college freshman during the spring of 2006. This approach was found to successfully identify and remove naïve conceptions from student understanding. Based on these results, this methodology was turned in to a distance-learning tool, consisting of a web based teaching module designed around fossil data from a subset of Kelley’s (1989) study of the molluscan fauna of the Chesapeake Group. The module mimics the classroom experience by replacing the teaching with interactive web pages, photographs, and video media detailing the processes utilized by the scientific community to identify, quantify, and interpret morphologic variation. Web module content is focused on the examination of gradual morphological change documented in two fauna of mollusks, and presented in a cross-disciplinary approach (geology, biology, and statistics) that expands the bounds of traditional science curriculum by bridging the gap between scientific research and science education. In a pilot study conducted to determine the ability for this module to be utilized in a science classroom, naïve notions were reduced by 10% when students utilized web material to examine evolutionary change. These results indicate that while effective at adding to the ability for educators to reduce student’s naïve understandings, the module is not effective at replacing traditional classroom instruction. The website can be found on the University of Vermont’s Perkins Museum of Geology homepage (, where visitors are asked to complete a survey in exchange for content use. The survey is part of an ongoing longitudinal study, the results of which will be quantified and used to improve and expand web content.