Explanations and teleology in chemistry education

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It has been commonly assumed that teleological explanations are unnecessary and have no place in the physical sciences. However, there are indications that teleology is fairly common in the instructional explanations of teachers and students in chemistry classrooms. In this study we explore the role and nature of teleological explanations and the conditions that seem to warrant their use in chemistry education. We also analyse the learning implications of developing explanations of chemical phenomena within a teleological stance. Our study is based on the qualitative analysis of the instructional explanations presented in traditional chemistry textbooks used in the United States. Our results indicate that teleological explanations are in fact present in these textbooks and help provide an explanatory reason for the occurrence of chemical transformations. Their use is tightly linked to the existence of a rule, principle, or law that governs the behaviour of a chemical system, and that explicitly or implicitly implies the minimisation or maximisation of some intrinsic property. This law or principle tends to provide a sense of preferred direction in the evolution of a transformation. Although teleological explanations seem to have heuristic pedagogical value in chemistry education, they may also lead students to develop alternative conceptions and unwarranted overgeneralisations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-870
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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