Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Scientific Conceptions of Photosynthesis among Primary School Pupils and Student Teachers of Biology

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Scientific Conceptions of Photosynthesis among Primary School Pupils and Student Teachers of Biology

Article excerpt

Introduction

Knowledge and understanding of basic concepts related to photosynthesis

If you asked biologists what the basic process on Earth is, they would most certainly respond 'photosynthesis'. Moreover, all non-biologists should respond in kind, since life on Earth depends primarily on this process. Most living organisms, including people, depend on photosynthesis. According to currently available data, the only exceptions are organisms that live in the deep ocean trenches and some other extreme environments; their mode of survival depends on chemosynthesis. As stated by Arnon (in Barker & Carr, 1989a), photosynthesis eminently merits its distinction as the most important biochemical process on Earth. Marmaroti and Galanopoulou (2006) summarised the work of many researchers saying that knowledge of photosynthesis is imperative for a basic understanding of how the world functions as an ecosystem and how it acts as a bridge between the non-living and living worlds.

Consequently, it is understandable that learning about the process of photosynthesis is included in national school curricula. The international comparative study Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) always includes items related to photosynthesis, which confirms the importance of this topic in the compulsory learning content of schools. In the national standards in the US, photosynthesis is included in the category 'matter cycling and energy transfer in natural ecosystems' (National Research Council, 1996). The latest science standards include photosynthesis within the disciplinary core ideas in the unit Organisation for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms: 'Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence of the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms' (MS-LS1-6. Next Generation Science Standards, 2013).

Slovenian curriculum and biology education

In Slovenia, per the school curriculum, pupils begin to familiarise themselves with the foundations of photosynthesis in the second grade of primary school, when aged seven years. The learning objective is to 'demonstrate that plants need air, water with mineral substances, and light in order to live' (Kolar, Krnel & Velkavrh, 2011, 11). In the third grade, the general learning objective is that pupils learn 'that living organisms receive something from the environment (food, air, water) which is processed and transmitted into the environment'. The learning objective which refers only to the plants is that pupils 'are able to justify why plants more than other living organisms need light and water with mineral substances' (Kolar et al., 2011, p. 11). An objective in the fourth grade is only indirectly related to photosynthesis. Pupils have to classify living things into groups according to common characteristics (Vodopivec, Papotnik, Gostincar Blagotinsek, Skribe Dimec & Balon, 2011, p. 17). The learning objectives related to photosynthesis of the curriculum for fifth grade are: 'The pupil is able to explain that plants from water and carbon dioxide produce food (organic matter) and excrete oxygen, and that, for this process (photosynthesis) sunlight as an energy source and chlorophyll are needed,' and 'the pupil is able to explain that the plants are producers and animals are consumers (of organic matter)' (Vodopivec et al., 2011, pp. 17-18). In sixth grade, the focus is on plant issues, and an entire chapter is devoted to photosynthesis (and cell respiration) in which the pupils' knowledge from previous classes is upgraded and expanded (Skvarc et al., 2011). In the seventh grade, there is an emphasis on learning about bacteria, fungi, and animals (Skvarc et al., 2011). In the final, ninth grade of primary school, the learning objective connected with photosynthesis has one objective ('[...] photosynthetic cyanobacteria have started to produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis [...]' Vilhar et al. …

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