University of Limerick
Galvin_2015_determine.pdf (2.43 MB)

To determine and overcome misconceptions in biology held by students and educators in the Irish schooling system

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posted on 2022-10-25, 08:45 authored by Elaine Galvin
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. It has been found to be one small but important aspect of teaching conceptual change in the classroom and is part of the broader educative work of the teacher and educator – generally regarded as work that is intellectual, social, moral and political. The importance of investigating misconceptions is emphasised by the number of pre-service teachers, qualified teachers and teacher educators that possess misconceptions and are unknowingly transferring these misconceptions to the students they teach. Misconceptions are a major concern in Science education as student’s capacity to acquire new and accurate scientific knowledge appears to depend greatly on pre-existing beliefs and the capacity to think anew and engage in deep meaning making, from factual information to higher-order conceptual thinking. Understanding the nature of conceptual change, and how to encourage and direct it, has been a major concern in Science education research. The area of conceptual change research is still a highly contested and disordered one. A handbook on conceptual change has the potential to help educators pitch the curriculum at the right level; design instruction to support teaching, and inform teachers how to bring about such conceptual changes. However, it is not intended as some type of magic bullet or a quick and lasting solution to a complex problem. The main literature in the conceptual framework looks at the complexity of learning, teaching and the importance of continual professional development as well as the challenges of school culture. This study took place in the University of Limerick, it involved student teachers from their second and third year (n=154) of teacher education, experienced Biology teachers (n=45) and senior cycle students (n=1,315) from forty seven secondary schools in the Republic of Ireland. The purpose of this investigation was to identify the misconceptions in Biology that students, pre-service teachers and qualified teachers hold and to determine how individuals learn information and what influences or underpins their learning. The study then aimed to determine what contributes to the formation of these misconceptions and hence develop, implement and evaluate cited conceptual change strategies that might help to better recognise, reduce and ultimately remove the complex problem of misconceptions in the learning and understanding of the particular topics for students and teachers in Ireland. This is a complex and difficult area of science education, it is a work in progress, and the author tried to find useful conceptual tools and practices to create awareness of misconceptions and to scaffold and support the acquisition of accurate scientific disciplinary knowledge. There were three distinct phases in this investigation. Phase one involved the development of a paper and pencil identification instrument to identify the misconceptions present among Irish senior cycle students, pre-service teachers and qualified teachers. The identification instrument consisted of a variety of questions on 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 development of an additional pedagogy module for 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 tackled. This phase also involved the development of a website resource to make information available to teachers already in the classrooms. The results from the evaluation form indicate that as a result of the additional pedagogy module pre-service teachers are now more familiar with misconceptions, and of the different strategies that can be used to identify and reduce them in the classroom. Here, it is important to interpret these findings as indicators rather than results due to the differential power relations between the author (tutor) and pre-service teachers. Phase three of this investigation involved the development of lesson guides. These lesson guides were designed by incorporating a conceptual change approach. The new demands of changing information, technologies, jobs and social conditions cannot be met through passive, rote learning focused on basic skills and memorisation of disconnected ideas. The lesson guides were used by pre-service teachers to teach senior cycle students while on their fourth and final year of teaching practice. A pre and post identification ii instrument was developed which consisted of two tiered multiple choice questions, open ended questions and diagrammatic representations. The findings indicate that the experiment groups’ conceptual understanding was significantly better than the control groups which were taught using a didactic approach. The effectiveness of the website was evaluated using a likert scale and indicated that the website was a useful and valuable resource. Effective and evidence-informed pedagogic practices are clearly needed by all teachers, and students, to identify, overcome and ultimately eliminate misconceptions in the acquisition of accurate scientific knowledge. One way of improving the quality of teachers in this regard can be achieved by targeting pre-service teachers, ensuring that they have capacity to continually interrogate their misconceptions, while working alongside peers and teacher educators to recognise and reduce, if not completely remove, Biology misconceptions. This study suggests the need for broad-based conceptual toolkits of knowledge, supports and pedagogical practices along the lines of a ‘good enough’ model of teaching. The findings have implications for teacher education, from initial teacher education through to in-career teacher development.


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  • Doctoral

First supervisor

O'Grady, Audrey



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Department or School

  • Biological Sciences

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