Some Speculations on Biology Teachers’ Misconceptions

Written by Annes Fatima

Preparing quality teachers is fundamental to ensure students’ success (Carnegie-IAS Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, 2009). Conceptual understanding of content is essential for enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. In the global context, the conceptual understanding of science concepts has been considered as one of the fundamental competencies in science learning (Widiyatmoko & Shimizu, 2018). However, it is found that many biology teachers, including those with experience, show a misunderstanding of various biological concepts. Hence, teachers who have less content knowledge or those who possess misconceptions would convey those scientifically inaccurate concepts to their students through inaccurate teaching. This article will discuss reasons for weak knowledge of biology teachers and some speculations had made about factors which may have negatively contributed to teachers’ content knowledge.

Teaching learning practices. The teaching learning practices in general and in science classroom in particular, often would not focus on application of concepts rather focus more on transmission of knowledge by lectures. Hence, it leads to misconceptions and causes difficulty when those concepts need to relate to the other concepts. Additionally, teaching only theoretical content encourages rote memorization without giving much attention to higher order thinking through innovative teaching techniques by linking the knowledge with daily life examples (Lewis & Wood-Robinson, 2000). Therefore, mostly teachers rely on superficial knowledge in daily teaching and do not strive to gain in-depth understanding of the concepts.

Secondly, majority teachers rely only on textbooks as a source of learning or to prepare their lesson plans. They usually do not use technology or reference books as learning resources. This is in line with the assertion made by Hala et al. (2018) that misconceptions of biology teachers could also be caused by a shortage of learning resources used by teachers during their teaching profession.

Linguistic issues. Teachers also found difficulty in understanding language of concepts. Confusion might be caused by the terms which look and sound very similar, for e.g., homologous/homozygous, mitosis/meiosis, and chromosome/chromatid. Thorne (2012) has also concluded from his study that the linguistic problems encountered by students and teachers include challenges related to look-alike and sound-alike words (e.g. homologue, homologous, homozygous and homozygote) and inconsistent use of terms because they are closely related in sound (e.g.  Meiosis and mitosis). Linguistic issues may have caused confusion and teachers could not fully interpret the concept.

Nature of biological concepts. Another possible reason for misconceptions could be the nature of biological concepts and the understanding of these concepts is often difficult. The microscopic nature makes the concepts abstract for the learners (Etobro & Benjoko, 2017). Usually schools as well as teacher education institutes do not offer teaching techniques/activities to help learners learn abstract concepts and required resources for supporting teachers in the classes for teaching these concepts effectively. Teaching abstract concepts pre-dominantly through ‘chalk and talk’ method may also lead to development of misconceptions.

Biology textbooks. Another source of misconceptions of teachers could be biology textbooks. Biology textbooks contains general description of content and exhibit a higher level of abstraction. Teachers with weak content knowledge would not identify misconceptions usually printed explicitly or implicitly in textbooks and it becomes part of their schemata and also transferred to students.

The content in textbooks is limited to describing processes and stages of different scientific phenomena and do not necessarily promote higher order thinking in learners. For instance, in the biology textbooks by PTB (2017;2014; 2012), there is a whole unit that describes entire processes of sexual and asexual reproduction in plants with examples. However, the focus of explanation in textbook is the process and not the ‘importance’ of the different types of reproduction for ‘survival’ of plant kingdom. Details only focuses on comprehending the meanings and recalling previous knowledge which may lead to lack of critical thinking, reasoning and analysis skills in readers. Furthermore, the concepts in textbooks are segregated and books lack appropriate conceptual organization of concepts; ordered and sequential approach to present concepts, which could lead to lack of linkages in readers mind.

Besides, diagrams used in textbooks to portray scientific knowledge could also be a possible source of developing misconceptions. The illustrations could significantly contribute to misconceptions and may lead to different mis-interpretations (Pozzer-Ardenghi & Roth, 2005). For example, in Biology textbook by PTB for grades-X (2014), a diagrammatic representation of formation of sperm from germ cells shows four morphologically identical sperms (i.e. oval head with a tail). It may have receive by the reader that all sperms are same genetically too. Since, teachers used textbooks as major source of knowledge, they hardly get an understanding to question the ‘text’ and in the process it becomes part of their schemata. Teachers found no chance to revisit such important concepts in their professional life and rely only on textbooks to refresh their content.  

Lack of scientific reasoning skills. Mostly teachers possess basic understanding of scientific concepts but could not give scientific reasons while explaining the scientific terms to their students. It shows teachers have superficial knowledge and could not explain the concept with scientific details. One of the possible explanations of the issues with teachers in providing reasons for the scientific concepts would be the condition of the science education of the teachers. The teachers might not have acquired adequate instruction in science during their own school life and it might have resulted in an inadequate understanding of scientific concepts. Similarly, in most of the teacher education programs, science courses do not mainly focus on the content knowledge but the pedagogical strategies. Therefore, the teacher may not get appropriate opportunities to develop sound understanding of scientific concepts. This inadequate knowledge of science might not help them in linking different scientific concepts when they required to provide explanations of scientific concepts.

Arguably, the lack of opportunities for teachers to develop the skills to reason and argue scientifically in contemporary educational practice might have led them to a lack of conceptual understanding (Sinhal, 2017). Conceptual understanding of science has been considered as one of the fundamental competencies in science learning (Widiyatmoko & Shimizu, 2018). However, it cannot be developed in vacuum without giving planned opportunities to learn and practice this competency.


Carnegie Corporation of New York. (2009). The opportunity equation: Transforming mathematics and science education for citizenship and the global economy.        Retrieved from https://www.carnegie.org/media/filer_public/80/c8/80c8a7bc-c7ab-4f49- 847d-1e2966f4dd97/ccny_report_2009_opportunityequation.pdf

Etobro, A. B., & Banjoko, S. O. (2017). Misconceptions of genetics concepts among pre-service teachers. Global Journal of Educational Research16(2), 121-128.

Hala, Y., Syahdan, U. A., Pagarra, H., & Saenab, S. (2018). Identification of misconceptions on cell concepts among biology teachers by using CRI method. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1028(1), 12-25.

Lewis, J., & Wood-Robinson, C. (2000). Genes, chromosomes, cell division and inheritance-Do students see any relationship? International Journal of Science Education22(2), 177-195.

Pozzer-Ardenghi, L., & Roth W. (2005). Making sense of photographs. Science Education, 89(2), 219–241.

Sinhal, S. (2017, October 4). Rote learning vs. conceptual learning: The what’s and why’s. India Today. Retrieved from https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/rote-learning-vs-conceptual-learning-1057581-2017-10-04

Thorne, K. (2012). Teaching genetics-A linguistic challenge: A classroom study of secondary teachers’ talk about genes, traits and proteins (Doctoral dissertation, Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden).

Widiyatmoko, A., & Shimizu, K. (2018). An overview of conceptual understanding in science education curriculum in Indonesia. Journal of Physics: Conference Series983(1), 12-44. doi:10.1088/1742-6596/983/1/012044

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