Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.1, 82-88
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Prospective Teachers’ Perceptions of Science Theories: An Action
Research Study
James P. Concannon1, Patrick L. Brown2, Erikka Brown3
1Westminster College, Fulton, USA
2DuBray Middle Scho ol, St. Peters, USA
3Westminster College, Fulton, USA
Received November 7th, 2012 ; revised December 10th, 2012; accepted December 24th, 2012
This study investigates prospective teachers’ conceptions of science theories before and after instruction.
Instruction focused specifically on prospective teachers’ misconceptions that theories are not used to pre-
dict, that laws are more important than theories, and that theories are simply hunches. The action research
investigation was successful in helping students accommodate new information presented in the lesson
and facilitated their understanding towards the accepted explanation of what a theory in science means;
however, the vernacular misconception that “theories are hunches” persisted.
Keywords: Nature of Science; Theory; Prospective Teachers; Science Misconceptions
The objective for K-12 science education as outlined in the
Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the
Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1993) and the National Sci-
ence Education Standards (National Research Council [NRC],
1996) is that students gain a broad understanding of science
content and develop abilities to use evidence-based reasoning in
their everyday lives. Although achieving higher levels of scien-
tific literacy is the ultimate goal, research consistently demon-
strates that students’ inaccurate ideas and misconceptions hin-
der their abilities to develop more scientifically accurate con-
ceptions (Driver, Leach, Millar, & Scott, 1996; Driver, Squires,
Rushworth, & Wood-Robinson, 1994). One key component in
helping students overcome misconceptions and achieve higher
levels of science literacy is how they are taught (Brophy &
Good, 1986). As a result, preparing prospective science teach-
ers to teach in ways that help students overcome misconcep-
tions is a major goal of many teacher education programs
(Lemberger, Hewson, & Park, 1999; Russell & Martin, 2007).
The knowledge prospective teachers have about the content and
their students influences what they will learn from teacher
preparation programs, the way they will teach, and what stu-
dents will learn. This idea grounds the purpose for this study.
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of
explicit instruction on prospective science teacher’s develop-
ment of knowledge of scientific theories.
Theoretical Framework
In order to understand prospective science teacher’s
development of knowledge of scientific theories, researches
must identify important co mponents of knowledge development.
Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog (1982) proposed a model of
conceptual change that included 4 sequential phases. In the first
phase, the teacher identifies student’s ideas, knowledge, and
misconceptions. The literature documented that students have
multiple types of misconceptions ranging from preconceived
notions, conceptual misunderstandings, to vernacular miscon-
ceptions (Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering
Education [CSMEE], 1997). Misconceptions inhibit students’
learning and progression from being nominally scientifically
literate to being functionally, conceptually, or multidimensional
literate (Bybee et al., 2008). Thus, it is important that student
thinking is made concrete for both the student and teacher at the
onset of science instruction. During the second phase, the
teacher provides experiences and data to introduce new,
accurate ideas. Students benefit from firsthand experiences with
evidence in order to find new ideas plausible. The third phase
students must find new conceptions more attractive than their
misconception. Students should generate scientific claims based
on evidence and teachers should discuss ideas in light of
students’ firsthand experiences. Finally, students must use
evidence-based reasoning and logic to develop deep con-
ceptually accurate understanding. Constructing new ideas
through interactions with data and evidence, collaborations with
other students, and discussions with the teacher should help
them refute the accuracy of their misconception. Students
benefit from elaborations that allow them to test new con-
ceptions in new and different contexts. Testing ideas in new
contexts help solidify students’ knowledge by resolving con-
flicts between prior conceptions and new understanding. The
proven effectiveness of a conceptual change approach on the
development of scientific knowledge is well substantiated. A
number of studies have contributed to the development, imple-
mentation, and demonstrate the robustness of using a con-
ceptual change approach to help students overcome miscon-
ceptions to develop more accurate understanding (Eaton,
Anderson, & Smith, 1983; Clement, Brown, & Zietsman, 1989;
Nussbaum & Novick, 1981; Posner et al., 1982; Osborne &
Gilbert, 1980).
Review of the Literature: Teachers Views of the
Nature of Science
One of the central goals identified by the National Science
Education Standards (NSES) is that students should understand
the nature of science and the tenets of science (NRC, 1996).
However, studies at both the K-12 level (Liu & Lederman,
2002) and in college science courses (Kurdziel & Libarkin,
2002) indicate that students are far from achieving this goal.
The seven tenets of science describes science as tentative, em-
pirically based, subjective, based on human inference, requires
imagination and creativity, and is socially culturally embedded
(Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998; Liu & Lederman, 2002). De-
spairingly, a number of studies document that teachers and
prospective teachers—those who are expected to have an un-
derstanding of these tenets—fail to have mature views (Abd-
El-Khalick & Akerson, 2004). There is a large body of research
that indicates that to be effective, NOS instruction should be
explicit (Gess-Newsome, 2002; Scharmann & Smith, 2001;
Akerson, Abd-El-Khalick, & Lederman, 2000; Smith &
Scharmann, 1999), reflective (Akerson et al., 2000), and taught
within an existing meaningful and relevant context (Abd-El-
Khalick & Lederman, 2000; Akerson et al., 2000). The studies
that follow demonstrate that in spite of explicit and meaningful
instruction, teachers’ development of accurate views of NOS is
Murcia and Schibeci (1999) investigated 73 individuals’
perceptions of science using a questionnaire about an article
regarding health and alcohol consumption. One question asked:
Those who indulged in alcohol once a week were more likely
to suffer serious illnesses or die. Do you think this statement is
scientific fact (Italics in original, p. 1128)?” The purpose of
this question was to determine if prospective teachers believed
scientific fact could stem from one single study. Only 29% of
prospective teachers indicated that there would need to be fur-
ther studies to validate the statement. In addition, prospective
teachers were asked a series of true/false questions pertaining to
various aspects of science. Another question focused specifi-
cally on what a scientific theory is: “Scientific theories should
explain additional observations that were not used in develop-
ing the theories in the first place” (p. 1134). Less than half
(45%) of the prospective teachers could identify that theories
have explanatory power that go beyond the direct observations
used to generate theory.
In another study of prospective elementary teachers, Coch-
rane (2003) examined 15 individuals views of science before
and after nature of science instruction. Cochrane reported that
prospective teachers had naïve views of theories and laws prior
to instruction. Prospective elementary teachers’ believed that
scientific theories could not change, or that scientific theories
generally do not change. One student wrote, “A law is when it
(a theory) has been tested many times and has been proven. It is
the answer” (p. 4). Prospective teachers indicate beliefs that
theories are static, never changing, and the idea that a theory
can turn into a law .
Lederman (1999) researched how five secondary biology
teachers’ understandings of the nature of science influenced
their classroom practices. The secondary biology teachers came
from diverse backgrounds and years they had been teaching
science. All five had previously had courses or workshops that
emphasized the nature of science and were considered to have
an advanced understanding of the meanings scientific theory
and law. Though all the teachers had a firm understanding of
the nature of science, only two teachers’ classroom practices
aligned with their views of science. These two teachers were
the more experienced of the five. Their intention was not to
teach the nature of science; rather, they were using a teaching
style that would motivate, promote success, and create positive
attitudes about science. Reviewing the teachers’ lesson plans,
the teaching of the nature of science through demonstrations
and inquiry-oriented lessons was not an intended outcome.
When the researcher asked questions about theories and laws to
students in the teachers’ courses, students replied with naïve
views: “Anyone can have a theory, but with evidence it eventu-
ally turns into a law because we now know it’s the
case,” ··· “Theories change all the time, but laws come out the
same way all the time and so we know they are right” (p. 926).
In this respect, students believed that scientific theories were
premature laws, laws are definite and true, and that theories are
simply ide a s .
Kurdziel and Libarkin (2002) examined non-science majors’
views of the nature of science in introductory geology courses
across three institutions. The researchers used a quantitative
instrument developed by McComas et al. (2001) to assess 73
students’ understandings of the empirical, tentative, creative,
and subjective nature of science before and after instruction. In
addition, the researchers administered the VNOS questionnaire
(Abd-El-Khalick et al., 1998) before and after instruction. Stu-
dents held naïve ideas regarding the empirical nature and tenta-
tiveness of science. Participants believed scientists solve prob-
lems and develop answers that will never change, science dis-
covers truth, science produces facts, and theories can change if
scientists change their minds (Kurdziel & Libarkin, 2002).
This study addresses important gaps in the literature con-
cerning teachers’ knowledge of NOS. Although prior research
reveals inadequacies in prospective teachers’ knowledge of
NOS, no literature has examined misconception about scientific
theories and the use of a conceptual change approach for de-
veloping knowledge. Moreover, no studies investigate prospec-
tive teachers pursuing different certifications development of
NOS knowledge using a conceptual change approach. Indeed,
little research exists that investigates what prospective teachers
learn during teacher preparation programs (Russell & Martin,
2007). Thus, studies are needed that better understand the mis-
conceptions that a prospective teacher have at the onset of a
teacher preparation course and identifies whether a conceptual
change approach influences their development of knowledge.
Research Questions
Two research questions guide this study: 1) What are mis-
conceptions about scientific theories among my prospective
science teachers? and 2) What specific strategies address pro-
spective teachers’ misconceptions about scientific theories and
promote conceptual change?
Research Context
In this section, the research context, data collection strategies,
and conceptual change approach used with prospective teachers
are described.
The sample consisted of 35 prospective teachers at a small
liberal arts institution. All prospective teachers were enrolled in
an Elementary and Middle School Methods of Teaching Science
course or a Secondary Methods of Teaching Science course.
The teachers in this study were purposefully selected because
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 83
prospective they had not been previously exposed to explicit
instruction on nature of science concepts (Abd-El-Khalick &
Akerson, 2004). The majority of the elementary and middle
level prospective teachers (88%) had only one college science
course prior to taking the survey. All prospective teachers in the
Methods of Teaching Secondary Science courses had at least
three college level science courses; many had taken more than
five. The Methods of Teaching Science courses are junior level
courses required for all individuals who wish to apply for an
elementary, middle school, or secondary teaching certification.
Individuals in these courses must have been previously admit-
ted to the college’s teacher education program. All students in
the teacher education program must maintain no less than a 3.0
grade point average.
Data Collection
Every fall semester, Methods of Teaching Elementary and
Middle School Science and Methods of Teaching Secondary
Science are offered. Generally, seven to fifteen students are
enrolled in these courses. To obtain an adequate sample for an
analysis, data was collected for four consecutive years. The
prospective teachers signed an informed consent document
explaining that their participation was on a voluntary basis, and
that their lack of participation would not affect their course
grade. Prospective teachers completed the survey at the begin-
ning of the course, and prospective were given as much time as
they needed to finish (See Table 1). The prospective teachers
did not discuss ideas/answers while the assessment wa s admin-
istered. Students finished the assessment within a fifteen minute
time block. At no time prior to the assessment did the re-
searcher explicitly mention the nature of scientific theories.
Instructio nal Interven tion: Concep t u al Change
The method of instruction was design ed using Posne r et al.’s
(1982) conceptual change model. Posner et al. (1982) explains
that in order for an individual to dismiss a prior incorrect idea, a
Table 1.
Pre-assessment of teachers’ knowledge of scientific theories1.
Put an X next to the statements you thin k best apply to scientific theories.
_____A Theories includ e observati ons.
_____B T heories are “h unches” scientists ha v e.
_____C Theories can include personal beliefs or opinio n s.
_____D Theories have been tested many tim es.
_____E Theories are incomplete, temporary ideas.
_____F A the or y never changes.
_____G Theories are i n ferred expla nations, strongly supported by evidence.
_____H A s cientific la w has been p ro ven and a theory has not.
_____I The ori es are u sed to make predictions.
_____J Laws are more important to science than theories.
Examine the statements you checked off. Describe what a theory in science
means to you.
Note: 1From Keeley, Eberle, and Dorsey’s (2008) Student Ideas in Science: An-
other 25 Formative Assessment Probes, p. 83).
better conception must be introduced and accepted the new
conception must be intelligible, plausible, and fruitful. This
means the new conception must make sense, that it is plausibly
true, and that it can be used to solve problems. Students must
first be aware of their understanding of the content and then
become dissatisfied with their own ideas. In order to create
dissatisfaction in students’ initial responses, I provided a con-
crete example of scientific theories, that being the heliocentric
and geocentric theories, for students to explore.
After engaging the class in the pre-assessment, I explained
that we were going to concentrate on the meaning of scientific
theories. To explore this idea, the class watched a segment of a
video from a CBS Science Special titled 400 Years of the Tele-
scope. Before the video, I passed out a question and answer
sheet. The question and answer sheet included these questions:
Before the invention of the telescope, how was the cosmos
described? What was the name of this theory? Who was given
credit for this theory? After the invention of the telescope, what
evidence was Galileo able to collect that supported an alterna-
tive, less accepted theory? Whose was given credit for this
“alternative” theory? What theory is used today to describe our
solar syste m?
The video described how advances in the telescope allowed
scientists to answer questions about our cosmos. Prior to Gali-
leo and Copernicus, the Claudius Ptolemy’s geocentric expla-
nation of the universe did a good job of predicting the position
of planets and stars. The Ptolemaic model was capable of pre-
dicting because it was developed by close observation of the
night sky; however, it was complicated. Copernicus challenged
the Ptolemaic model by putting the sun in the center of the solar
system in attempts to rid the expansive complexity of predict-
ing positions of planets and stars.
The video explained how Copernicus’s ideas were not ac-
cepted, but scientists made use of his tables because it was sim-
pler than the required Ptolemaic calculations. It was not until
Galileo’s use of his telescope, whereby he observed Saturn’s
phases and Jupiter’s moons, that evidence for the Copernican
model came about. Galileo believed in the Copernican model,
but was banned from speaking of such heretical ideas.
After the video, I asked the students to reflect on the video.
Why was the Ptolemaic model, even though incorrect, still
described as a theory? How does a model describing our world
become coined as a theory? Was the geocentric theory based on
observations? What evidence did Galileo provide to support the
Copernican Model? Was the Copernican Model an incomplete
idea or a hunch? Was the Copernican Model based on observa-
tions? In addition to addressing these questions, I also ad-
dressed the differences between theory and law. Keeping
aligned with the same content, I described Newton’s Law of
Gravity and Einstein’s Gravitational Theory. While Newton
was capable of calculating observable phenomena using his
Law of Gravity, he did not attempt to explain why gravity oc-
curs between two masses. It was not until Einstein’s research
that we understood why gravitational forces between masses
occur. Like the Copernican model, Einstein explained why
phenomena that we observe occur. It was a simple yet genius
explanation tying together evidence that had been collected
over hundreds of years. Then the class discussed and debated
their answers. Eventually, after much deliberation and discus-
sion, I provided the scientifically accepted definition of a theory
in science and I described the differences between a theory and
a law. Students were asked to consider this definition of theory
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 85
to their original definition of theory.
Subsequent to instruction, I asked the prospective teachers to
look at their responses on their surveys. In this metacognitive
activity, I asked them to think about their responses and to
change anything they would like before turning in. To ensure I
did not get the pre-assessment answers and the post-assessment
answers mixed up, I had them “X” for the pre-assessment and a
check for the post-assessment. I asked the students not to cross
out their pre-assessment answers; rather, just put a check to the
left of where the “X’s” were.
In this section, data is presented regarding prospective teach-
ers’ prior knowledge of scientific theories and knowledge after
Six (17.1%) of the prospective teachers checked all items A,
D, G, and I without checking any other items. 11.4% of pro-
spective teachers checked a combination of correct items A, D,
G, or I without checking incorrect items. The most frequently
missed items were H (42.5% checked) “A scientific law has
been proven and a theory has not” and item A (40% not
checked) “Theories include observations”, followed by I, B, D
and C (Table 2). Of these items, A, D, and I should have been
checked but were not. Likewise, items H, B, and C should not
have been checked, but were. Besides item A for items that
should have been checked, a high percentage (40%) of prospec-
tive teachers missed item I, “Theories can be used to make
predictions,” and 36% of prospective teachers missed item D,
“Theories have been tested several times”. Item H, “A scientific
law has been proven and a theory has not”, had the highest
percentage incorrect (36%) for all items that should not have
been checked but were. The same percentage (28%) of students
checked items B, “Theories are ‘hunches’ scientists have”, and
C, “Theories can include personal beliefs and opinions”.
Prior to instruction, prospective teachers responded to the
statement, “Examine the statements you checked off. Describe
what a theory means to you” (Keeley et al., 2008: p. 83). Writ-
ten responses indicated that prospective teachers had a better
understanding of scientific theory than the initial analysis of the
checked items (Table 3).
Based on the written responses, several prospective teachers
had a correct understanding of the meaning of scientific theo-
ries. A total of 15 students had similar written responses as
Secondary Science Student 1 (Table 3). Of these 15 prospec-
tive teachers, the most frequently incorrect responses on the
checked item s were items A and I (26.6% incorrect).
Similar to Elementary Science Students 1 and 3 (Table 3); a
total of 10 prospective teachers had the misconception that
scientific theories are not proven while laws are proven. These
prospective teachers also think that laws are proven and theo-
ries are not yet proven. The second most frequent misconcep-
tion revealed from the written responses pertained to students’
confusion between the meaning of theory and hypothesis. Nine
students used the term theory in their written explanation, but
were actually describing a hypothesis (Elementary Science
Student 2; Table 3).
Summary of Prospective Teachers Conceptions Prior
to Instruction
In addressing the purpose of this study, items H, B, A, I, and
D were determined to be the most concerning items (Table 4).
While many prospective teachers understood the meaning of
scientific theories, a significant number of prospective teachers
Table 2.
Percentage of students wh o responded incorrectly by item.
Items A B C D E F G H I J
Checked 21
12 11 24 9 2
30 15 22 4
Notchecked 14 23 24 11 26 33 5 20 13 31
% Incorrect 40% 34.2% 31.4% 31.4% 25.7% 3.5% 14.2% 42.8% 37.1% 11.4%
Table 3.
Written responses t o s t u d e nt s d e s c ribing what a theory in science means to them.
Secondary Science Student 1—Student had taken more than five c ol lege scien ce courses—A ns wered the survey correctly fo r all items: “A scientific theory
is an inferred explanation created after studying a phenomenon. It is strongl y supported by evidence and observation and can be used to make predictions.
All theories have been tested many times.”
Secondary Science Student 2—Student had taken more than three college sc ience courses—Answered the surve y correctly except for one item (H): “A
theory is a hypothes is that has been thorough l y tested. A theory provides the best explanation, which is supporte d by strong evidence.
Secondary Science Student 3—Student had taken more than three college sc ience courses—Answered the surve y correctly except for two items (I and J): “A
theory in scien ce is a well-supported idea that, even though proven right multiple times, has the ability to be proven wrong.
Elementary Scienc e S t udent 1—Student had taken one c oll ege scien ce course—Answered all items c orr ectly except two (H and I): “A scientific theory is an
attempt to explain observed phenomena based on well-documented research. However, unlike a law, a theory is not proven.
Elementary Scienc e S t udent 2—Student had taken one c oll ege scien ce course—Answered t h ree items incorrectl y (B, C, J): “A theory is something that a
scientist believes. He would test it by doing experi ments to test his theory.
Elementary Science St udent 3—Student had taken one college science course—Answered fi ve items inc orrectly (A, B, D, E, and H): “A theory is a hunch
that scientists have that are incomplete and temporary ideas using evidence to try to support ideas.
Elementary Science St udent 4—Student had taken one college science course—Answered fo ur items inc orrectly (A, C, H, and I ): “Theories are scientific
ideas that have been tested. They continue to be tested and if they pass all t hey tests they are then a scientific law.
used the word theory synonymous to hypothesis, or thinking
that a scientific law is proven while a theory is not. In addition,
prospective teachers would enter their own classrooms thinking
not understanding that a theory is based upon observations,
theories can be used to make predictions, and theories have
been tested several t imes.
Differences in Prospective Teachers’ Conceptions
before and after Instruction
Specific surveys with high frequency of incorrect responses
were removed from the data set and further analyzed to deter-
mine if explicit instruction regarding the meaning of scientific
theories had any effect on students’ former conceptions. Over-
all, prospective teachers’ missed fewer items on the post-as-
sessment compared to the pre-assessment; however, miscon-
ceptions remained (Table 5). Despite explicitly teaching to the
assessment, the misconception that a theory is a “hunch” per-
sisted at a higher frequency than expected. Of the students with
a significantly high number of incorrect ideas, this was the one
misconception that persisted. In fact, upon collecting the sur-
veys, a student explained to me that despite the explicit expla-
nation of a scientific theory, he insisted on checking item B:
Theories are hunches scientists have.
Two students participated in an additional brief post-instruc-
tion interview relating to theories in science. Student #1 is an
early childhood and elementary education major intending to go
onto graduate school upon finishing her degree. She took earth
science, psychology, biology, physics, and chemistry courses in
high school in addition to seven college science courses. Stu-
dent #1 did not receive the aforementioned instruction as stu-
dent #2. Student #1 was simply given the pre-assessment, re-
sponded to the pre-assessment, and then explicitly told the cor-
rect answers to the pre-assessment. Student #2 is a secondary
education major with emphasis in biology. Student #2 had pre-
viously taken seven high school science courses (Earth Science,
Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy, Botany and Zoology)
and seven college science courses. Student two was taught us-
ing a conceptual change model of instruction and then explic-
itly asked to consider his ideas of science theories before and
after instruction. Here are the students’ responses to the fol-
lowing questions after instruction:
1) Please explain what a “scientific theory” is. What does it
Student #1: “A Scientific theory is a group of ideas/hunches
about a specific area that needs to be tested in order to be
Table 4.
Rank order of prospective teachers’ incorrect ideas of scientific theories.
H: A scientific law has been proven
and a theory has not (should not ha ve
been checked).
Highest frequency of incorrect responses for i t ems that sho uld not have b een checked; For individuals wh o
responded correctly to item G (the b est answer i f j ust picking one item), this item had the highest frequency of
being incorrectly checked; Result is supported by prospective teachers’ incorrect responses to the short answer at
the end of the instrument.
A: Theories include observations
(should have been checked). Item with the highest frequency of in correct responses for items th at should have been che cked: Result c ou ld be
due to prospective teachers picking item G rather than item A.
I: Theories are used to make predictions
(should have been checked). Item with the second highest frequency of incorrect responses for items that should have been checked: Result
could be due to prospective teachers picking item G rather than item I.
B: Theories are “hunches” scientists have
(should not have been checked).
Second highest frequency of incorrect re s po nses for a l l it ems that s ho u ld not ha v e been checked; fourth highest
frequency of incorrect respon s es for all items (checked or not checked); Result is supported by prospective
teachers’ incorrect responses to the short answer at the end of the instrument.
Table 5.
Pre- and post-conceptions of science theories.
Student # Pre-assessment misconceptions Post-assessment misconceptions
1 Believed th eories are “ hu n ches”; t heories can include
personal beliefs; and laws are more important than theories
Student no longer believed theories included personal beliefs o r that laws are
more important than theories; however, maintained that theories are
2 Believed th at theories are “hunches”; theor i es can include
personal beliefs; and that a scientific law is proven while a
theory is not.
Student no lon ger held the idea that a scientific law has been proven and a
theory has not; however , s t i l l maintained that theories are “hunches” and can
include personal beliefs.
3 Believed th at theories are “hunches”; and that a scientific
law is proven while a theory is not. Both misconc eptions not pre sent.
4 Believed th at theories are “hunches”; theor i es can include
personal be l iefs; and theories are i ncomplete ideas.
Student no longe r believed theories can include personal beliefs; howeve r,
student still believed tha t t heories are “hunches” and that theories are
incomplete ideas.
5 Believed th at theories are “hunches”; theor i es can include
personal beliefs; theories are incomplete ideas, and that a
scientific law has been proven while a theory has not.
Student no longer thought theories are incomplete ideas or that a law has been
proven while a theory has not. Student maintained the ideas that theories are
“hunches” and that scientific theories can include pe r sonal beliefs.
6 Believed t h at laws are more importa n t than theori es. Misconception not present.
7 Believed th at theories are “hunches”; theor i es can include
personal beliefs; theories are incomplete ideas, and that a
scientific law has been proven while a theory has not.
Student no longer believ ed that theories are incomplete ideas, or that a
scientific law has been pr oven and a theory has not. S tudent maint ained the
idea that theories are “hunches” s cientists have and that theorie s can include
personal beliefs or o pi nions.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
proven, until then it remains a hypothesis/guess.
Student #2: “A scientific theory is a statement pertaining
about a phenomenon supported by evidence and observations.
2) Please explain what a “scientific theory” is. What does it
Student #1: “A Scientific theory is a group of ideas/hunches
about a specific area that needs to be tested in order to be
proven, until then it remains a hypothesis/guess.
Student #2: “A scientific theory is a statement pertaining
about a phenomenon supported by evidence and observations.
3) Can you think of any examples of theories in science? If
so, please list.
Student #1 “Theory of Evolution-interesting to prove that
one. Theory of Relativity
Student #2 “The theory of gravity, relativity, evolution, and
4) If someone were to explain to you that a theory in science
is “just a hunch”, would you agree or disagree with them? Why
or why not?
Student #1: “I would disagree because a theory should be
based on prior research and LOADS of it. It combines many
ideas and research into a very direct guess that needs to be
tested. Anyone can have a guess/hunch but you would need
mass amounts of research to propose a theory.”
Student #2: “I would disagree with them, because a hunch is
not a theory.”
Discussions and Conclusion
This study confirmed that students are leaving high school
with misconceptions about the nature of scientific theories, and
these misconceptions persist into their college years of educa-
tion (Kurdziel & Libarkin, 2002; Liu & Lederman, 2002). For
many prospective teachers, misconceptions result from the way
“theory” is used in everyday contexts versus and the way “the-
ory” is meant in the science community. In this study, the pri-
mary misconceptions about theories in science prior to instruct-
tion were: 1) a scientific law has been proven and a theory has
not; 2) theories do not include observations; 3) theories cannot
be used to make predictions; and 4) theories are “hunches”
scientists have.
Many studies have been carried out in primary, middle, and
secondary methods courses on prospective teachers’ knowledge
of NOS (Cochrane, 2003; Murcia & Schibeci, 1999). How-
ever, few studies investigate the development of knowledge for
NOS for prospective teachers pursuing teacher certification at
different levels (e.g., primary, middle, and secondary). Regard-
less of the type of certification the prospective teachers in this
study were pursuing, they all had varying preconceptions of
NOS topics and the meaning of “scientific theory.” After in-
struction, these prospective teachers developed more accurate
views of NOS and “scientific theories” while retaining some
naïve conceptions. The main findings of this study indicate: 1)
as a result of the conceptual change approach, many of stu-
dents’ incorrect ideas about science theories no longer existed;
2) students who did not receive instruction maintained incorrect
ideas; 3) the instruction did not increase the number of incorrect
responses; and 4) a student who received explicit direct instruc-
tion had less understanding of science theories compared to one
who participated in a lesson designed to create a conceptual
change experience about science theories, and then have an
explicit conversation regarding students’ former and current
ideas of science theories. Overall, explicit instruction of science
theories decreased the number of incorrect ideas students held.
However, the idea that theories are “hunches” persisted, espe-
cially for students who had several incorrect ideas about theo-
ries in science.
The instruction that was implemented in this study focused
on conceptual change; that is, trying to create a classroom en-
vironment whereby students have to recognize their incorrect
ideas and actively seek a better understanding of the concept.
For conceptual change to occur, students had to first recognize
that their ideas were incorrect. This was accomplished in the
instructional process by exemplifying a historical account of
how theories developed, how theories are used, and how old
theories are set aside. Students must think about their own per-
ceptions of theories, how evidence is used to support theories,
how theories are used to make predictions, and how theories are
more than hunches. Explicit instruction coupled with the con-
ceptual change approach made positive impacts on students’
understandings of the meaning of science theories. Thus, this
study contributes to the literature on effective prospective
teacher preparation by illustrating that NOS related content can
be taught through a conceptual change approach to help K-12
prospective teachers develop knowledge. In addition, this study
revealed that the effectiveness of explicit instruction of NOS
related content is dependent upon the approach by which the
content is delivered.
In light that this study was performed using college-aged
students who had multiple incorrect preconceptions of the
meaning of science theories, and the understanding of science
theories is present in the National Science Education Standards
(1996), it is assumed that K-12 teachers need to do a better job
addressing students’ misconceptions of theories before, during,
and after teaching science content. This can be accomplished by
K-12 teacher fusing the history of science into the teaching of
science content. The results of the study indicate that while
explicit instruction using a conceptual change approach was
effective in addressing students’ misconceptions about theories
in science, this study revealed addressing students’ mis-
conceptions about science theories cannot be accomplished in
one lesson. A teacher cannot assume that using research-based,
sound instruction for one class period can address students’
misconceptions about a topic. To truly address students’ mis-
conceptions about scientific theories, teacher educators should
integrate the history of science and nature of science,
specifically the meaning of science theories in this case,
whenever possible and use a conceptual change approach. This
should be done frequently and consistently. Teachers should
place relevant science content in a social and historical context.
The history of science should be used to exemplify how the
science community has come to understand science content,
and that theories in science are a result of evidence, not
“hunches.” Effective models of teacher preparation should
explicitly focuses on a conceptual change approach and link
teachers developing knowledge with strategies that can be used
to help promote students conceptual change.
More studies are necessary that identify whether teachers
who develop knowledge of NOS through a conceptual change
approach design during teacher preparation and implement
NOS and conceptual change approach with students. Learning
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 87
from experience can be a valuable for prospective teachers and
create drastic changes in their practice (Russell & Martin, 2007).
Thus, longitudinal studies are needed to better understand the
gap between theory and practice. In this regard, studies are
needed that and bridge what we know how prospective teachers
learn to become effective beginning teachers both in terms of
NOS and using a conceptual change approach. Such studies
would lend valuable insight into the factors that facilitate and
constrain teacher’s ability to use a conceptual change approach
and teach NOS with students.
In conclusion, research on knowledge development of NOS
during teacher education courses has the potential to redesign
how prospective teachers are prepared when pursuing different
certifications. Like students leaving high school with miscon-
ceptions about scientific theories and laws, prospective teachers
have similar inaccurate ideas. These misconceptions result from
the way “theory” is used in an everyday context versus and the
way “theory” is meant in the science community. To develop
more accurate views of NOS, a conceptual change approach
can help prospective teachers become dissatisfied with their
misconceptions and accept more accurate views. If teachers
develop a deeper understanding of both scientific knowledge
and the pedagogical effectiveness of a conceptual change ap-
proach, profound differences might occur in K-12 students
understanding of scientific and theories and NOS.
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