Do Skilled Elementary Teachers Hold Scientific Conceptions and Can They Accurately Predict the Type and Source of Students’ Preconceptions of Electric Circuits?

  • Jing-Wen LinEmail author


Holding scientific conceptions and having the ability to accurately predict students’ preconceptions are a prerequisite for science teachers to design appropriate constructivist-oriented learning experiences. This study explored the types and sources of students’ preconceptions of electric circuits. First, 438 grade 3 (9 years old) students were surveyed about their pre-instructional ideas on electric circuits and where they developed these ideas. Then, 76 elementary school teachers with master’s degrees in science education were selected and their content knowledge of electric circuits was documented. Next, they were asked to make predictions about the kind of preconceptions most grade 3 students would have about electric circuits and the most dominant source of these preconceptions. The results revealed that these skilled teachers held scientific conceptions for most of the questions surveyed; however, they inaccurately predicted the types and sources of the students’ prominent alternative preconceptions. Specifically, they underestimated the possibility of students holding scientific concepts and neglected the effect of students’ intuition on their conceptions. Implications for teaching and teacher education are discussed.


Alternative conceptions Content knowledge Electric circuit Pedagogical content knowledge Source of students’ conceptions Teachers’ awareness 



The author would like to acknowledge the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan for its financial support in completing this study (grant numbers NSC 99-2511-S-133-002-MY3, NSC 102-2511-S-259 -003 -MY3), and my assistants, Yu-Lun Wu and Wan-Yeh Chan, for their data collection and analysis,respectively. In addition, the author gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Larry Yore and Shari Yore, in editing the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10763_2015_9635_Fig1_ESM.gif (52 kb)

(GIF 52 kb)

10763_2015_9635_Fig2_ESM.gif (70 kb)

(GIF 52 kb)

10763_2015_9635_MOESM1_ESM.tiff (421 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 421 kb)
10763_2015_9635_MOESM2_ESM.tiff (579 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 579 kb)
10763_2015_9635_Fig3_ESM.gif (43 kb)

(GIF 43 kb)

10763_2015_9635_Fig4_ESM.gif (36 kb)

(GIF 43 kb)

10763_2015_9635_MOESM3_ESM.tiff (112 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 111 kb)
10763_2015_9635_MOESM4_ESM.tiff (98 kb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 97 kb)


  1. Anderson, D., Lucas, K. B., Ginns, I. S. & Dierking, L. D. (2000). Development of knowledge about electricity and magnetism during a visit to a science museum and related post‐visit activities. Science Education, 84(5), 658–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Appleton, K. (2003). How do beginning primary school teachers cope with science? Toward an understanding of science teaching practice. Research in Science Education, 33, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appleton, K. (2008). Developing science pedagogical content knowledge through mentoring elementary teachers. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19(6), 523–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Babai, R., Eidelman, R. R. & Stavy, R. (2012). Preactivation of inhibitory control mechanisms hinders intuitive reasoning. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10(4), 763–775.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cheng, M. F. & Brown, D. E. (2010). Conceptual resources in self-developed explanatory models: The importance of integrating conscious and intuitive knowledge. International Journal of Science Education, 32(17), 2367–2392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chi, M. T. H., Siler, S. A. & Jeong, H. (2004). Can tutors monitor students’ understanding accurately? Cognition and Instruction, 22(3), 363–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chiu, M. H. & Lin, J. W. (2005). Promoting fourth graders’ conceptual change of their understanding of electric current via multiple analogies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching42(4), 429–464.Google Scholar
  8. Clement, J. (1993). Using bridging analogies and anchoring intuitions to deal with students’ preconceptions in physics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30(10), 1241–1257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. de Jong, O., van Driel, J. H. & Verloop, N. (2005). Preservice teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge of using particle models in teaching chemistry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(8), 947–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duit, R. & Treagust, D. F. (2012). How can conceptual change contribute to theory and practice in science. In B. J. Fraser, K. Tobin & C. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 107–118). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eldar, O., Eylon, B. S. & Ronen, M. (2012). A metacognitive teaching strategy for preservice teachers: Collaborative diagnosis of conceptual understanding in science. In A. Zohar & Y. J. Dori (Eds.), Metacognition in science education: Trends in current research (pp. 225–250). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Erduran, S. (2003). Examining the mismatch between pupil and teacher knowledge in acid-base chemistry. School Science Review, 84(308), 81–87.Google Scholar
  13. Falk, J. H. & Needham, M. D. (2013). Factors contributing to adult knowledge of science and technology. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50(4), 431–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Georgiou, H. & Sharma, M. D. (2012). University students’ understanding of thermal physics in everyday contexts. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10(5), 1119–1142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gomez-Zwiep, S. (2008). Elementary teachers’ understanding of students’ science misconceptions: Implications for practice and teacher education. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19, 437–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Herppich, S., Wittwer, J., Nückles, M. & Renkl, A. (2013). Does it make a difference? Investigating the assessment accuracy of teacher tutors and student tutors. Journal of Experimental Education, 81(2), 242–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hestenes, D. (2006). Notes for a modeling theory of science, cognition and instruction. Proceedings of the 2006 GIREP conference: Modelling in physics and physics education. Retrieved from
  18. Jaakkola, T., Nurmi, S. & Veermans, K. (2011). A comparison of students’ conceptual understanding of electric circuits in simulation only and simulation‐laboratory contexts. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(1), 71–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Larkin, D. (2012). Misconceptions about “misconceptions”: Preservice secondary science teachers’ views on the value and role of student ideas. Science Education, 96(5), 927–959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lin, J. W. (2008). A comparison study between the coherence of acrossgrade students’ mental models in electricity and curriculum sequence. Journal of Education & Psychology31(3), 53–79.Google Scholar
  21. Lin, J. W. & Chiu, M. H. (2007a). Exploring characteristics and diverse sources of students’ mental models in acids and bases. InternationalJournal of Science Education29(6), 771–803.Google Scholar
  22. Lin, J. W. & Chiu, M. H. (2007b). Exploring the relationship between the edition diversities of science textbooks and the different compilation and accreditation systems after implementing nineyear compulsory education—An example of electricity in junior high school. Journal of the National Institute for Compilation and Translation49, 1–18.Google Scholar
  23. Lin, J. W. & Chiu, M. H. (2009). An acrossgrade study to investigate the evolutionary processes of students’ cognitive characters in series connection. Journal of Research in Education Sciences54(4), 139–170.Google Scholar
  24. Lin, J. W. & Chiu, M. H. (2010). The mismatch between students’ mental models of acids/bases and their sources and their teacher’s anticipations thereof. International Journal of Science Education32(12), 1617–1646.Google Scholar
  25. Lin, J. W. & Wu, Y. L. (2013). Application of a diagnostic instrument with item confidence to explore across graders' understanding of simple and series circuits and their sources. Journal of Research in Education Sciences58(2), 25–56.Google Scholar
  26. Maeyer, J. & Talanquer, V. (2010). The role of intuitive heuristics in students’ thinking: Ranking chemical substances. Science Education, 94(6), 963–984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Magnusson, S. J., Boyle, R. A. & Templin, M. (1997). Dynamic science assessment: A new approach for investigating conceptual change. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 6(1), 91–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Magnusson, S. J., Krajcik, J. & Borko, H. (1999). Nature, sources, and development of pedagogical content knowledge for science teaching. In J. Gess-Newsome & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Examining pedagogical content knowledge: The construct and its implications for science education (pp. 95–132). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  29. McDermott, L. C. & Shaffer, P. S. (2000). Preparing teachers to teach physics and physical science by inquiry. In G. Buck, J. Hehn & D. Leslie-Pelecky (Eds.), The role of physics departments in preparing K-12 teachers (pp. 71–85). College Park, MD: American Institute of Physics.Google Scholar
  30. Nilsson, P. (2008). Teaching for understanding: The complex nature of PCK in pre-service teacher education. International Journal of Science Education, 30, 1281–1299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Osborne, R. & Freyberg, R. (1985). Learning in science: The implications of children’s science. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  32. Peterson, R., Treagust, D. F. & Garnett, P. (1989). Development and application of a diagnostic instrument to evaluate grade 11 and 12 students’ concepts of covalent bonding and structure following a course of instruction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 26(4), 301–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Psillos, D., Koumaras, P. & Tiberghien, A. (1988). Voltage presented as a primary concept on DC circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 10(1), 29–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Shen, J., Gibbons, P. C., Wiegers, J. F. & McMahon, A. P. (2007). Using research-based assessment tools in professional development in current electricity. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 18(3), 431–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Shen, J., Liu, O. L. & Chang, H. Y. (2010). Measuring transformative modeling: A framework of formatively assessing students’ deep conceptual understanding in physical sciences. Proceedings of the 9th international conference of the learning sciences, 1, 137-144.Google Scholar
  36. Shepardson, D. P. & Moje, E. B. (1994). The nature of fourth graders’ understandings of electric circuits. Science Education, 78(5), 489–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shipstone, D. (1985). Electricity in simple circuits. In R. Driver, E. Guesne & A. Tiberghien (Eds.), Children’s ideas in science (pp. 33–51). Milton, MA: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Slotta, J. D. & Chi, M. T. H. (2006). The impact of ontology training on conceptual change: Helping students understand the challenging topics in science. Cognition and Instruction, 24(2), 261–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stavy, R. (1990). Children’s conception of changes in the state of matter: From liquid (or solid) to gas. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(3), 247–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stocklmayer, S. & Treagust, D. F. (1996). Images of electricity: How do novices and experts model electric current? International Journal of Science Education, 18(2), 163–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Taber, K. S. (2005). Learning quanta: Barriers to stimulating transitions in student understanding of orbital ideas. Science Education, 89(1), 94–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Taber, K. S. & Tan, K. C. D. (2011). The insidious nature of ‘hard-core’ alternative conceptions: Implications for the constructivist research programme of patterns in high school students’ and pre-service teachers’ thinking about ionization energy. International Journal of Science Education, 33(2), 259–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Taylor, A. K. & Kowalski, P. (2004). Naïve psychological science: The prevalence, strength, and sources of misconceptions. Psychological Record, 54, 15–25.Google Scholar
  45. van Driel, J. H., de Jong, O. & Verloop, N. (2002). The development of preservice chemistry teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. Science Education, 86(4), 572–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wang, T. H., Chiu, M. H., Lin, J. W. & Chou, C. C. (2013). Diagnosing students’mental models via the webbased mental models diagnosis (WMMD) system. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(2), E45–E48.Google Scholar
  47. Wikipedia. (n.d.). PTT bulletin board system. Retrieved April 20, 2012, from
  48. Wu, L. C., Cheng, P. Y., Tuan, H. L. & Guo, C. J. (2011). The background analysis of mathematics and science teachers in the junior high and elementary schools in Taiwan. Research and Development in Science Education Quarterly, 63, 69–98.Google Scholar
  49. Yore, L. D. & Treagust, D. F. (2006). Current realities and future possibilities: Language and science literacy - empowering research and informing instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 28(2/3), 291–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Curriculum Design and Human Potentials DevelopmentNational Dong Hwa UniversityHualienRepublic of China

Personalised recommendations