Misconceptions in Biology

To determine and overcome misconceptions in Biology held by students and educators in the Irish Education System.

Abstract: The investigation of misconceptions in Biology has been a substantive feature of the work of the Science Education research community for the past 30 years. The importance of investigating misconceptions is emphasised by the number of pre-service teachers, qualified teachers and teacher educators that possess misconceptions and are transferring these misconceptions to the students they teach. Misconceptions are a major concern as students’ ability to learn new scientific information depends greatly on their pre-existing beliefs. It is this knowledge that determines what new knowledge they can construct and retain, therefore what they already know about a topic will either enhance or hinder their learning of the correct body of knowledge. Science and Technology have become a major focus of government policy, and hence Science education is becoming increasingly important in Ireland.

The purpose of this investigation was to identify the misconceptions in Biology that students, pre-service teachers and qualified teachers hold. It was then hoped to determine what contributes to the formation of these misconceptions. Finally, it was intended to develop, implement and evaluate materials and strategies that aimed at identifying and overcoming misconceptions in the learning and understanding of the particular topics for students and teachers in Ireland.

There were three distinct phases in this investigation. Phase one involved the development of a paper and pencil diagnostic test to identify the misconceptions present among Irish senior cycle students, pre-service teachers and qualified teachers. The diagnostic test consisted of different types of questions on different topics in Biology that were found to have misconceptions among participants in International studies. Findings from this phase indicate the presence of misconceptions amongst all three groups. However, the qualified teachers held fewer misconceptions and answered more questions correctly than the other two groups.

Phase two of this investigation involved the observation of qualified teachers teaching, to determine what strategies and resources may be contributing to the formation of their students’ misconceptions. An additional pedagogy module was developed and delivered to third year pre-service teachers in the University of Limerick. This module aimed at creating awareness of misconceptions; what they are, how they are developed, identified and overcome. This phase also involved the development of a website resource to make the information and resources available to teachers already in the classrooms. Results from phase two indicate that qualified teachers are either unaware or unconcerned with using specific strategies and resources in the classroom to identify and overcome their students’ misconceptions and were found to be very reliant on their textbook and examination papers. The results from the evaluation form indicate that the additional pedagogy module was very effective in helping pre-service teachers become more familiar with misconceptions and how to eliminate them in their own classrooms.

Phase three of this investigation involved the development of lesson guides. These lesson guides were designed with a conceptual change approach teaching in mind. The lesson guides were used by pre-service teachers to teach transition year students while on their fourth year teaching practice to see if the strategies and resources used would address the students’ misconceptions and advance their conceptual understanding. A pre and post identification instrument was developed which consisted of two tier multiple choice questions, open ended questions and drawings. The findings indicate that the experiment groups’ conceptual understanding was significantly better than the control groups which were taught using a didactic approach when the post tests were analysed. The teachers that completed the additional pedagogy module, when observed used a variety of resources, used specific teaching strategies to identify and overcome misconceptions and did not place reliance on textbooks and examination papers. The effectiveness of the website was evaluated using a likert scale. The results indicate that the website was a useful and valuable resource, but more example lesson plans are required.

Researcher: Elaine Galvin
Commencement date: August 2012
End Date: June 2015