The purpose of this study was to investigate elementary school pre-service teachers’ understanding of photosynthesis and to examine if a refutational text can support understanding of photosynthesis better than a non-refutational text. A total of 91 elementary school pre-service teachers read either a refutational or a non-refutational text concerning photosynthesis and then answered open-ended questions. Our results indicate that there are critical problems associated with student teachers learning about the process of photosynthesis, even after it has been systematically taught in teacher education. However, the results positively indicate that refutational science texts seem to foster effective conceptual change among student teachers. The results interestingly showed that students who read a refutational text improved their systemic and factual understanding of photosynthesis more than did those who read a non-refutational text. Especially students who had naïve prior understanding regarding photosynthesis benefitted more from a refutational text. Thus, a refutational text may act as an effective facilitator of conceptual change. These results have implications for teacher education, where conceptual mastery of the most important science phenomena, such as photosynthesis, should be achieved. A refutational text is an easy and effective way to support conceptual change in higher education. Thus, this study highlights the importance of domain-specific science education in teacher programmes.
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The researchers were present at the data-collection sessions. However, they were not involved in the instructions given in the course.
The analysis tool was constructed by the first author, a biologist.
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The authors wish to thank the Academy of Finland for the financial support for the LeMEd-project, 128892 and lecturer Jorma Immonen from the Department of Teacher Education in the University of Turku for co-operation.
Prof. Mikkilä-Erdmann leads the LeMed project, 128892, financed by the Academy of Finland.
An example paragraph from the texts. The last paragraph was present only in the refutational text, and it is italicised so as to highlight it. The section discusses food chains, energy and matter:
Food chains illustrate how energy flows from one organism to another. Carrot leaves bind solar energy in the process of photosynthesis, a rabbit gets part of this energy by eating the carrot and, in turn, a fox gets part of this energy by eating the rabbit. In each phase, part of the energy leaves the food chain. Thus, only part of the energy the carrot originally photosynthesised ends up in the fox.
Energy does not cycle in the food chain but enters the food chain only by photosynthesis. Loss of energy from the food chain means that a carnivore at the top of the food chain consumes much more energy for its growth than a same-sized herbivore would need, because of more steps in the food chain.
In the food chain, matter cycles and returns from the top of the food chain to the photosynthesising organisms. When a dead organism decomposes, nutrients from it are released back to the soil. Plants can use these nutrients again when they grow and photosynthesise.
Concepts of matter and energy are often confused. Matter cycles in nature so that when a dead animal decomposes, nutrients are released back to the soil. Many people think that energy also cycles in nature, but this does not happen. Energy has to continuously flow to the food chain. For this, photosynthesising organisms are needed, because they are able to change solar energy to chemical energy for other organisms to use.
[Translated from the original Finnish text used in the study. The authors can provide a copy on request.]
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Södervik, I., Mikkilä-Erdmann, M. & Vilppu, H. Promoting the Understanding of Photosynthesis Among Elementary School Student Teachers Through Text Design. J Sci Teacher Educ 25, 581–600 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-013-9373-9
- Systemic understanding
- Refutational text
- Conceptual change
- Science learning
- Higher education