Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James H. Wandersee


Insect metamorphosis is relatively easy to explain at a superficial level, but a deep understanding of the concept reveals a complex array of interrelationships, most importantly those that address evolution. This is significant because, in biology, evolution is considered to be a central theme. Participants for this study were selected from grades 5, 7, 9, and 11 according to low, middle, or high achievement levels in their science classes, and to scores on a national achievement test. The research incorporated a three-level response strategy in order to ascertain more completely students' knowledge of insect metamorphosis, and to better suggest how that knowledge could give insight into their understanding of evolution. First, a series of scientifically accurate line drawings depicting grasshopper and butterfly metamorphic stages probed understanding of basic concepts. Second, concept circle diagrams identified and explored students' concept clusters involving insect metamorphosis. Third, clinical interviews involving direct observation of insect metamorphosis in vivo assessed the degree of integration of two clusters of insect metamorphosis concepts; metamorphic and evolutionary. In formulating this study's research questions, the theoretical bases of prescientific conceptions and meaningful learning, as well as histories of science and entomological literature were accessed. Specific questions addressed by this research were: (1) What major alternative conceptions do students hold concerning insect metamorphosis? (2) How does students' understanding of insect metamorphosis change across grade levels? (3) Are students able to give evolutionary explanations for insect metamorphosis? The major alternative conceptions of public school students taking part in this study about insect metamorphosis fell into five major categories: visual stage recognition, stage terminology, characteristics of stages, factors influencing insect metamorphosis, and types of metamorphosis. No increase in student understanding of insect metamorphosis across grade levels was evidenced from the stage picture data. The concept circle diagram data, however, showed an increase in understanding from grade five to grade eleven. The vast majority of the students were unable to give an evolutionary explanation for insect metamorphosis. Findings suggest that direct entomological experiences may increase pupils' understanding of both insect metamorphosis and evolution.