2013. Vol.4, No.9, 572-587
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ce) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ce.2013.49083
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Determining Cognitive Structures and Alternative
Conceptions on the Concept of Reproduction
(The Case of Pre-Service Biology Teachers)
Hakan Kurt1*, Gülay Ekici2, Özlem Aksu3, Murat Aktaş4
1Department of Biology Education, Necmettin Erbakan University, Konya, Turkey
2Department of Educational Sciences, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey
3Kazan Mustafa Hakan Güvençer Anatolian High School, Ankara, Turkey
4Mehmet Tunç Science Education Institutes, Ankara, Turkey
Received July 23rd, 2013; revised August 23rd, 2013; accepted August 30th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Hakan Kurt et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Reproduction is among basic functions of living beings and one of elementary complex subjects of the bi-
ology course. This is complicated for learners to construct cognitive structures on the subject. The aim of
the current study is to investigate pre-service biology teachers’ cognitive structures related to “reproduc-
tion” through the free word-association test and the drawing-writing technique. As the research design of
the study, the qualitative research method was applied. The data were collected from pre-service biology
teachers. The free word-association test and the drawing-writing technique were used as data collection
instruments. The data were subject to content analysis and divided into categories through coding. With
the help of these categories, the cognitive structures of pre-service biology teachers were explained. The
data collected through the study were divided into 7 categories (structures required for reproduction, re-
production in plants and sections, types of reproduction, insemination, reproduction-inheritance, defining
reproduction and its importance, reproductive anatomy). In the categories obtained, it was determined
that ample data could be collected using different assessment instruments. On the other hand, it was de-
termined that pre-service biology teachers had alternative conceptions related to reproduction. It was ob-
served that the pre-service teachers had imperfect cognitive structures regarding the subject of reproduc-
tion. Comprehensive suggestions related to the subject are presented at the end of this article.
Keywords: Reproduction; Cognitive Structure; Alternative Concepts
One of the common basic functions of living organisms is
“REPRODUCTION”. Plants, animals and single-cell organisms
reproduce, although they do this in different forms.
The subject of reproduction is covered in many different
courses throughout the education life; however, biology is
among those in which it is covered most. Researches show that
students fail to adequately comprehend the subject of reproduc-
tion, that they fail to address the subject in its complexity by
linking micro and macro levels (Hmelo-Silver & Azevedo,
2006; Inagaki & Hatano, 2002; Inagaki & Hatano, 2006), that
thus students cannot form their cognitive structures, that they
cannot concretize abstract aspects inherent in the subject and
that they fail to link the subject with their daily lives (Bahar,
Johnstone & Hansell, 1999; Cimer, 2012; Jones & Rua, 2006;
Lazarowitz & Penso, 1992; Lewis, Leach, & Wood-Robinson,
2000a, 2000b; Lukin, 2013; Prokop, Prokop, & Tunnicliffe,
2007; Prokop, Prokop, Tunnicliffe, & Diran, 2007; Seymour &
Longdon, 1991; Simpson & Marek, 1988; Udovic et al., 2002;
Tekkaya, Ozkan, & Sungur, 2001; Treagust, 1988). One of the
main reasons of the above finding is that the subject of repro-
duction is highly comprehensive at the micro level; and espe-
cially the subjects of growth, development, hormones, Men-
del’s laws, genes, chromosomes, and mitotic and meiotic divi-
sion differ by species (Krawczyk, 2007; Sinan & Karadeniz,
2010; Wynne, Stewart, & Passmore, 2001). Therefore, con-
struction of cognitive structure is negative affected by abstract
natures of these subjects (Knippels, Waarlo, & Boersma, 2005;
Krawczyk, 2007; Smith, 1991; Quinn, Pegg, & Panizzon, 2009).
There is a lack of consensus in the literature on how concep-
tual change happens while the cognitive structure is constructed
(Chi, Slotta, & Leeuw, 1994; Franco et al., 1999; Vosniadou &
Brewer, 1992, 1994a, 1994b; Vygotsky, 1995b). However, there
exists a consensus that students experience difficulties when
constructing their cognitive structures about concepts (Dagher,
1994; diSessa & Sherin, 1998; Duit et al., 1998; Siegler, 1995;
Stavridou & Solomonidou, 1998; Tyson et al., 1997; Vosniadou,
1996). The inability to form the cognitive structure stems from
students’ inability to associate the conceptual structures per-
taining to the subject with one another in their minds. It is
highly difficult to explain the cognitive structures that emerge
in individuals’ minds after the process of learning. However;
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 573
important relevant data can be collected by revealing learners’
opinions on certain key concepts (Gilbert, Boulter, & Ruther-
ford, 1998a; Gilbert, Boulter, & Rutherford, 1998b; Gilbert &
Boulter, 2000). Because researches on concepts unveil indi-
viduals’ cognitive structures related to those concepts, concep-
tual knowledge is not only to know the name or definition of a
concept, but also is to be able to see the transitions and relations
between concepts. Biology is a course which requires students
to be able to see the micro and macro relations among concepts.
Otherwise, learning cannot be realized. At this point, teachers
should guide students to improve their meaningful learning. To
this end, the teacher must know students’ prior knowledge
(Pines & West, 1986; Tsai & Huang, 2001; Tsai & Huang,
2002). This obtained information not only helps teachers de-
velop their teaching strategies but also helps to do researches on
students’ conceptual changes. For incorrect prior knowledge
always negatively affects learning (CUSE, 1997; Posner et al.,
1982; Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak, 1994), and thus neces-
sary steps need to be taken in order to alter incorrect knowledge
and replace them with new ones.
While various methods are employed in order to determine
conceptual learning, especially those techniques labeled as
alternative measurement and evaluation techniques are fre-
quently used. These techniques are employed not only to de-
termine students’ knowledge; but also to determine the relations
that students establish between concepts, students’ cognitive
structures, whether they manage to accomplish meaningful
learning by linking existing knowledge with new information,
the extents to which they make sense of the operation of events
in the natural life by associating them with their conceptual
knowledge, and alternative conceptions they develop (Bahar,
2003; Bahar et al., 2006; Ercan, Tasdere, & Ercan, 2010; Kurt,
2013). In this respect, in order to determine the cognitive struc-
tures and alternative conceptions related to the concept of re-
production; two-step multiple-choice tests (Odom & Barrow,
1995; Tekkaya, 2003), drawings (Ainsworth, Prain, & Tytler,
2011; Cetin et al., 2013; Cinici, 2013; Nyachwayaa et al., 2011;
Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2010; She, 2004; Yayla & Eyceyurt,
2011; Zoldosova & Prokop 2007), interviews (Kose, 2008),
independent word association test (Ad & Demirci, 2012; Dove,
Everett, & Preece, 1999; Ercan & Tasdere, 2010; Koseoglu &
Bayir, 2011; Kurt, 2013), structured grid, diagnostic tree, con-
cept maps, conceptual change texts, analogy, prediction-ob-
servation-explanation and other techniques can be used (Bahar
et al., 2008; White & Gunstone, 1992). In this research, the
independent word association test and drawing-writing tech-
nique were employed.
These measurement techniques listed above are employed
both in determining the scientific cognitive structures about
concepts that students are supposed to have and in the non-
scientific cognitive structures that students are not supposed to
have. During the process of learning, individuals may incorpo-
rate non-scientific concepts along with scientific ones into their
cognitive structures. There are different terms used in the lit-
erature for conceptual structures that are scientifically incorrect
or that contradict scientific facts. “Misconception”, “precon-
ception”, “alternative frameworks” and “alternative concep-
tion” (Doran, 1972; Driver & Easley, 1978; Driver, 1989; Mike
& Treagust, 1998; Skelly & Hall, 1993; Smith, Blakeslee, &
Anderson, 1993) are among these terms. In this study, the term
“alternative conception” was used. Alternative conceptions are
not preferred in learning and teachers try to keep them at the
lowest level possible, because alternative conceptions may
direct students to incorrect conclusions while learning nega-
tively affect their accurate construction of new information in
their minds (Albanese & Vicentini, 1997; Tsai, 1999).
Conceptual Structure Researches in the
Literature on the Concept of Reproduction
Researches on the subject of reproduction in the literature
have been carried out both at different scientific dimensions,
and with the participation of students from different levels of
study and with participants from different segments of the soci-
ety. For the subject of reproduction is pertinent to people from
all walks of life. On the other hand, since the subject of repro-
duction is linked with many different subjects in curricula such
as growth, development, hormones, genetic, chromosomes,
mitotic and meiotic division; it was determined that studies
conducted with students have addressed different subjects and
different species. However, it was observed that only the sub-
ject of reproduction in humans has been addressed in studies
carried out with participants from different segments of the
In studies conducted with the participation of stude nts; In
studies conducted with students aged 14 - 16; the subjects of
comparing genetic knowledge and chromosome number in an
original and new cell, defining the place in human body where
cell division occurs, and stating the same cell division occurs in
plants were presented on the subject of “cell division”; and the
subjects of comparing chromosome numbers in egg and sperm
cells, determining the chromosome number in a fertilized egg,
explaining the purposes of sexual reproduction, and specifying
the types of reproduction in plants were presented on the sub-
ject of “fertilization” (Lewis, Leach, & Wood-Robinson, 2000a,
Akyurek and Afacan (2012) determined that 8th grade stu-
dents have alternative conceptions regarding the concepts of
“chromosome”, “gene”, “meiotic division”, “mutation”, “mi-
totic division”, “modification” and “DNA”; whereas Robinson
and Lewis (2000) carried out a similar study with 16-year-old
students and found that they failed to comprehend the subject of
“genetic transfer (transduction)” and that they had imperfect
knowledge about “genes”, “chromosomes” and “cells”.
Emre and Bahsi (2006) found that pre-service science teach-
ers have misconceptions about the subject of cell division,
whereas Tekkaya, Capa and Yilmaz (2000) determined that
pre-service biology teachers misunderstood various important
concepts such as gene, allele, homologous chromosome, repli-
cated chromosome, chromosome number and DNA strand, and
that they have misconceptions. Atilboz (2004) found that stu-
dents mostly experience difficulty in comprehending, and have
misconceptions about, chromosome-DNA relationship, chro-
mosome structure of cells that emerge as a result of mitotic and
meiotic division, the concept of diploid-haploid cell, number of
cells produced by mitotic and meiotic division, homologous
chromosome, sister chromatids, and events happening during
mitotic and meiotic division.
Sesli and Kara (2012) determined high school students’ al-
ternative conceptions about the subjects of cell division and
reproduction. They found the following alternative conceptions:
“daughter cells contain more genetic knowledge and chromo-
somes than mother cells”, “following any kind of a division,
daughter cells have half the number of chromosomes that the
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
mother cell has”, “cells of the same species have the same ge-
netic data”, “genetic knowledge is universal and unchanged-
able”, “cell division does not occur in testicles and eggs, be-
cause they are haploids”, “since plant and animal cells are
different, plant cells cannot execute cell division”, “number of
chromosomes will rise faster after the division, because more
cells will be formed”, “cells with the same chromosome num-
bers have the same genetic data”, “meiosis occurs in our bodies
both in somatic cells and gametes”, “while animals sexually
reproduce, plants asexually reproduce”, “sperm cells may be
different from egg cells due to the possibility of having X and Y
chromosomes”, “egg cells are the same since they emerge from
the same mother cell”, “sperm and egg cells have the same
chromosome number since they have the same gametes”, “zy-
gotes may vary through matching of big and small cells”, “an
egg cannot reach the adequate number of chromosomes for an
organism”, “primitive species reproduce only asexually”,
“there is no genetic difference between single-cell organisms”,
“prokaryotes reproduce through mitotic division”, “prokaryotes
cannot sexually reproduce as they do not have sexes”, “plants
cannot sexually reproduce since they cannot move and their
sexual organs are not developed”, “plants cannot sexually re-
produce as they do not have sexes”.
Mak, Yip and Chung (1999) determined that a great majority
of pre-service teachers have the alternative conceptions that
“ovule of flower develops in the seed’s embryo following polli-
nation”, “an apple grows out of the ovary of flower”, “fruit
grows from flower’s receptacle” and “pollen grains are male
gametes of flowery plants”. On the other hand, Bebbington
(2005) suggests that students are incompetent in categorizing
and naming plants, whereas Hershey (2004) determined that
students tend to think of pollination only linked with animals,
that there exists a widespread confusion between pollination
and insemination, and that students have imperfect and incur-
rect knowledge especially about how plants reproduce. In this
respect, Hershey brought students’ alternative conceptions re-
garding plants under five different groups: “oversimplifica-
tions”, “overgeneralizations”, “obsolete concepts and terms”,
“misidentifications” and “flawed research”. Yip (1998) deter-
mined children’s misconceptions about reproduction and pro-
vided teaching-related suggestions.
Cinici (2013) investigated high school students’ opinions on
the life form and cycle of the butterfly with respect to reproduc-
tion using open-ended questions and drawing. Students’ draw-
ings were grouped under five categories after coding the fre-
quencies and frames of drawings of external organs, and it was
found that students have imperfect and incorrect knowledge.
Schussler (2008) located misconceptions about reproduction
and the concepts of plant, flower and fruit in children’s books.
In studies conducted wi th the participation of individuals
from different segments of the society; Iliyasu et al. (2012)
investigated girls’ relationships with their mothers in terms of
sexual and reproductive health. They found that most girls learn
these issues from their mothers, as they mostly talk about mar-
riage, menstruation, flirtation, premarital sex and sexually
transmitted diseases. The authors suggested that the quality and
scope of mothers’ domestic reproductive health training in
Northern Nigeria should be improved.
When doctors’ levels of knowledge about issues pertaining to
reproductive health such as safe motherhood, emergency ob-
stetric care, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases
(STDs) and reproductive health services for the young; it was
found that the level of knowledge in safe motherhood is low, in
emergency obstetric care is high, in family planning is high, in
STDs is high, and in reproductive health services for the young
Warenius et al. (2007), in the study carried out with second-
dary school students, determined alternative conceptions such
as contraceptive pills and condoms used for cancer. Amu-
yunzu-Nyamongo et al. (2005) determined that young people
have very strong doubts about condoms as a method that pre-
vents HIV and pregnancy that their primary sources of informa-
tion on sexuality are their friends and yellow press; however,
they prefer to get information from professional health workers.
Ugoji (2013) indicates that there exists no statistically sig-
nificant correlation between university students’ knowledge of
reproductive health, their concept structures and locus of con-
trols; and argues that imperfect and incorrect prior knowledge
can be prevented by adequately covering these issues in curric-
Studies on the subject demonstrate that the concept of repro-
duction requires a highly wide perspective as it is a subject that
pertains to numerous fields other than the scientific-academic
field such as social, economic, political, and ethical and health
fields. For this reason, biology teachers are assigned in the so-
ciety with a serious responsibility. Therefore, it is believed that
findings to be obtained by determining the cognitive structures
of biology teacher candidates, who will be biology teachers in
the future, on the subject of reproduction, will be of high im-
Considering the limitations of the study, we attempted to de-
crease these limitations. The main reason for these limitations is
its being a qualitative study (Gall et al., 2002; Hitchcock &
Hughes, 1995; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Verma & Mallick,
1999). The study group was chosen through purposeful sam-
pling for the accessibility of the participants (Given, 2008;
Knight et al., 2013; Patton, 1990). All the questions and con-
cerns of the participants were answered, and the answers of the
participants were given with the participant numbers without
any change (Cohen & Manion, 1997; Kus, 2003; Patton, 1990;
Punch, 2005). According to the views of the specialists in the
field, the reliability analyses were carried out, and the data were
collected under the categories.
The aim of this study is to determine pre-service biology
teachers’ cognitive structures on the concept of “reproduction”
by using the techniques of independent word association and
drawing-writing. To this aim, answers were sought to the fol-
1) What cognitive structures do pre-service biology teachers
have, according to the independent word association test, on the
concept of reproduction?
2) What cognitive structures do pre-service biology teachers
have, according to the drawing-writing technique, on the con-
cept of reproduction?
3) What are the alternative conceptions of pre-service boil-
ogy teachers on the concept of reproduction?
In line with the suggestions above, the cognitive structures of
reproduction were determined for student teachers. After re-
viewing the data with the techniques of free association test and
drawing-writing technique, some alternative concepts were
created with each technique. Figure 1 was created based on the
cognitive structures of Biology student teachers about repro-
duction. At the last section, the data obtained from the study
were discussed with the previous literature, and some sugges-
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 575
Cognitive structures of pre-service biology teachers about reproduction.
tions were presented.
In this research, the qualitative research method was em-
ployed. Examination of different aspects of education through
the qualitative research method has been a very widespread
approach especially in the last 20 years (Gall et al., 2002;
Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Verma
& Mallick, 1999). A qualitative research approaches the subject
with an interpretative and natural perspective and focuses on
more than one method. The main purpose in such researches is
to present the subject in a detailed and realistic manner. There-
fore, it is of importance to present the data as detailed and di-
rect as possible (Cohen & Manion, 1997; Kus, 2003; Patton,
1990; Punch, 2005). The qualitative research method was pre-
ferred in this study, since the cognitive structures of pre-service
biology teachers are presented in detail using the independent
word association test and the drawing-writing technique in this
A total of 44 fourth and fifth year Biology teaching students
from Necmettin Erbakan University participated in this study,
which was carried out in the 2011-2012 Academic Year. Of the
participants, 35 (79.5%) are females, and 9 (20.5%) are males.
In addition, 19 of the participants (43.20%) are 4th year stu-
dents, and 25 (56.80%) are 5th year students. This study bene-
fited from purposive sampling. Some criteria were taken into
consideration in order to minimize the problems in purposive
sampling (Given, 2008; Knight et al., 2013; Patton, 1990). In
this vein, several criteria were taken into consideration while
selecting the participants such as having completed the field
courses in biology, willingness to participate in the study, being
seniors in the department of biology teaching and having com-
pleted the courses, and being available to the researcher.
Data Collection Instruments
Using independent word association test and drawing-writing
technique in this research as data collection instruments, it was
aimed to collect detailed information regarding pre-service
Biology teachers’ conceptual structures on the concept of “re-
production”. Information on these assessment instruments is
Free Word Association Test: This technique, which is
based on the assumption of giving responses to independent
stimulant words without limiting the ideas coming to the mind
(Bahar, Johnstone, & Sutcliffe, 1999; Sato & James, 1999), is
one of the oldest methods and has been used in numerous re-
searches (Ad & Demirci, 2012; Bahar & Kilicli, 2001; Bahar &
Ozatli, 2003; Cardellini & Bahar, 2000; Daskolia, Flogaitis, &
Papageorgiou, 2006; Dove, Everett, & Preece, 1999; Hovardas
& Korfiatis, 2006; Isikli, Tasdere, & Goz, 2011; Wagner, Va-
lencia, & Elejabarrieta, 1996). It is among the most widely used
techniques with the purpose of determining individuals’ cogni-
tive structures about concepts, analyzing the links between
concepts in these structures, and whether the links between
concepts in individuals’ long-term memories are adequate or
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
not. In this research, the concept of “reproduction” was selected
as the stimulant for the word association test, and presented to
the participants in the following format. Figure 2 shows an
example response given by a participant (P27) in the word as-
KEY CONCEPT: REPRODUCTION
As is seen in the Figure 2, the word association test consists
of two stages.
At the first stage; participants are required to write down the
concepts that the stimulant word has brought to their minds in a
given duration 40 seconds in this research (Gussarsky & Goro-
detsky, 1990). The pre-service biology teachers were asked to
write down the first ten words that come to their mind first,
when they see or hear the word “reproduction” in 40 seconds.
The reason the key concept was written more than once is to
avoid the risk of chain responses, because otherwise the student
might write down concepts that her previous responses bring to
her mind instead of the key concept. Such a situation harms the
objective of the test.
At the second stage; participants are required to write down
sentences in 20 seconds about the key concept. These sentences
were analyzed one by one during the analysis of data, because
the response sentence that is associated with the key concept
may be a product of evocation that is not significantly corre-
lated with the key concept. Besides, since a sentence is much
more complex and advanced than a single word, the evaluation
process is influenced by situations whether the sentence is sci-
entific or not, or whether it involves misconceptions or not.
Drawing-Writing Technigue: This technique has been used
in numerous scientific researches (Cetin et al., 2013; Nyach-
wayaa et al., 2011; Pluhar et al., 2009; Prokop, Fancόvicόva, &
Tunnicliffe, 2009; Shepardson et al., 2007; Stafstrom, 2002;
Yayla & Eyceyurt, 2011; Yorek, Sahin, & Ugulu, 2010). It was
aimed with the drawing-writing technique to thoroughly exam-
ine pre-service teachers’ opinions on the concept of reproduc-
tion (Rennie & Jarvis, 1995), because this technique is highly
effective in obtaining natural and high-quality data about hid-
den opinions, understandings and attitudes regarding these tech-
nical concepts (Backett-Milburn & Mckie, 1999; Pridmore &
Bendelow, 1995; White & Gunstone, 1992). In this respect, the
participants were asked to freely state their opinions answering
the question “Express what you know about the concept of re-
production with figures” in five minutes. Below is an example
of students’ response papers (Figure 3).
Analysis of Dat a
Before starting to analyze the data, the participants’ response
papers were assigned numbers from 1 to 44 in order to show
whom the response belongs to. The data, obtained using the
two assessment instruments, were analyzed based on the con-
tent analysis method. The main purpose in this method is to
obtain concepts and relations that can explain data. For this
purpose, similar data were brought together under certain con-
cepts and themes, and they were organized in a way the reader
Words in the answer sheet: Reproduction 1: Living-Thing. Reproduction 2:
Female. Reproduction 3: Male. Reproduction 4: Egg. Reproduction 5: Sperm.
Reproduction 6: Insemination. Reproduction 7: Zygote. Reproduction 8: Embryo.
Reproduction 9: Infertile. Reproduction 10: Systems. Sentence in the answer
sheet: It is production of a new individua l by living beings to be abl e to continue
their spec ies.
P27’s response paper.
The participant drawing (P25) depicting how reproduction is. The participant
mentions, “Sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction, vegetative reproduction,
spore reproduction . Zygote is formed after th e female and male reprod uctive cells
P25’s response paper.
can understand. In this framework, the data were assessed ac-
cording to their frequency values.
The data obtained from the independent word association test
were analyzed using the techniques of number of words, num-
ber of responses and semantic relation (Atasoy, 2004; Shavel-
son, 1974). Words with the same meaning were grouped under
words recurred most frequently. Words, which were regarded
as irrelevant, which were not associated with other words, and
which were stated only for once were excluded from the analy-
sis. Words were categorized by using semantic relation criteria,
and frequencies of words in each category were calculated.
Many studies show that this type of data analysis produces
reliable results (Daskolia, Flogaitis, & Papageorgiou, 2006;
Hovardas & Korfiatis 2006; Kostova & Radoynovska, 2008;
Kostova & Radoynovska, 2010; Kurt, 2013; Wagner, Valencia,
& Elejabarrieta, 1996; White & Gunstone, 1992).
In the drawing-writing technique, on the other hand, draw-
ing-writing data regarding the concept of reproduction were
analyzed using the content analysis method. By means of the
drawing task, the students’ ideas about reproduction were in-
vestigated, not the ability to draw it, so the precision in shape
was ignored. It was a struggle to provide a scoring scale which
gave minimum credit to the artistic quality of the drawing
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 577
(Reiss et al., 2002). First, the participants’ drawings related to
the concept of reproduction were grouped under certain catego-
ries and sub-categories. Then, the cognitive structures demon-
strated by the participants on the concept of reproduction were
analyzed with respect to their levels. While determining these
levels, data are grouped from level 1 to level 5 (Bahar et al.,
2008; Bartoszeck, Machado, & Amann-Gainotti, 2008; Cinici,
2013; Reiss & Tunnicliffe, 2001). The level groups, which were
formed with the purpose of evaluating participants’ cognitive
structures on the concept of reproduction through their draw-
ings, are presented in Table 1.
Moreover, both in the independent word association test and
in the drawing-writing technique, the explanations provided by
the participants for the concept of reproduction within texts are
presented in quotation marks in the following form: [“…”
(P11)]. In the drawing-writing technique, examples from par-
ticipants’ drawings are presented with respect to categories by
indicating the number assigned to the participants (e.g. P19 or
Validity and reliability are among the most important issues
for qualitative researches. In the research, two important proc-
esses were executed in order to ensure the validity of results: 1)
Detailed explanations were provided on the processes of en-
coding data and analyzing data (how the conceptual category
was reached) (Hruschka et al., 2004; Daymon & Holloway,
2003); 2) For each of the categories obtained in the research, an
example response, which was thought to represent that category
best, was assigned and presented in the “Findings” section
(Roberts & Priest, 2006; Wiersma & Jurs, 2005).
In order to ensure the reliability of the research, on the other
hand, codes and categories pertaining codes, which were pro-
duced by two researchers, were compared with the purpose of
checking whether the codes given under the conceptual catego-
ries represent these conceptual categories or not. After the re-
search data were encoded separately by two biology experts,
the researcher gave these lists of codes and themes their final
forms. Consistency between the codes used independently by
the researchers was determined by marking them as “Agree-
ment” (when they used the same code for students’ responses)
or “Disagreement” (when they used different codes). In cases
when a researcher ran into a contradiction, encoding was per-
formed by taking the opinion of the other researcher. The reli-
ability of the data analysis conducted in the above-explained
manner was calculated using the following formula: [Agree-
ment/(Agreement + Disagreement) × 100] (Miles & Huberman,
1994). The mean reliability between the encoders was found at
96%. Besides, in order to improve the validity and reliability of
the research, data diversification was performed by collecting
data using different instruments.
On the other hand, NVivo9.3 software was used in forming
the Figure 1 on students’ cognitive structures about reproduction.
In this section, findings are divided into two according to the
method. Then, alternative conceptions of participants on the
subject of reproduction, which were determined through both
methods, will be presented.
Findings Obtained from Free Word Association Test
As a result of the analysis of participants’ cognitive struc-
tures regarding the concept of reproduction, a total of six cate-
gories were formed. These categories and words given under
them were listed and their frequency values were provided
(Daskolia et al., 2006; Kostova & Radoynovska, 2008; Kostova
& Radoynovska, 2010; Kurt, 2013; Torkar & Bajd, 2006;
Wagner et al., 1996; White & Gunstone, 1992). Words pre-
sented only for once (95 words [22.83%]) were excluded from
the analysis. These words are presented in the comments sec-
tion at the end of each category. As a result, the remaining 46
different words were divided into six categories. Table 2 shows
these words and categories. 321 words were received in total.
In the analysis of the data obtained, most of pre-service
teachers’ responses went under the category of “structures re-
quired for reproduction”, which thus emerged as the dominant
category (f = 153). While in this category most of the partici-
pants emphasized on the words “sperm”, “egg”, “ovary”,
“spore”, “vagina”, “uterus”, “testic le” “male”, “female”, “womb”,
“penis”, “male reproductive system”, “female reproductive
system” and “hormone”, some others wrote the words “scro-
tum”, “sex” and “oviduct”. The words that were written in this
category only for once by the participants and thus were ex-
cluded are the following: “sexual glands” and “sperm tube”.
These results indicate that the participants mostly associate
their cognitive structures about the concept of reproduction
with concepts under the category of “structures required for
reproduction”. Moreover, it was observed that reproduction
mostly meant “reproduction in humans” to the participants as
they rarely thought about concepts related to reproduction of
other species. This shows that the dimensions of the partici-
pants’ cognitive structures on reproduction are limited.
In the second category, participants presented associations
related to “reproduction in plants and sections” (f = 41). While
most participants wrote the words “ovary”, “gamete”, “pollen”,
“pollination” and “fallopian tube”, a lesser number of partici-
pants wrote “seed” and “flower”. Some of the words that were
written in this category only for once by the participants and
thus were excluded are the following: “anther”, “germination”,
“bridging”, “insemination pipe”, “insemination tube”, “follicle
tubes”, ovule”, “oocyst”, “pollen tubes”, “stigma”, “sprout” and
The third category was “types of reproduction” (f = 39).
Level groups formed to evaluate participants’ cognitive structures on reproduction through their drawings.
Level 1 No drawing
Level 2 Non-representational-carton drawings (drawings re lated to one or two dimensions of the concept)
Level 3 Drawings with alternative concepts (drawings that are related to two or three dimensions of the concept and that include alternative conceptions)
Level 4 Partially correct drawings (drawings that are related to three or more dimensions of the concept but that include imperfect knowledge)
Level 5 Comprehensive representation drawings (comprehensive drawings that are rel ated to three or more dimensions of the conce pt )
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Distribution of pre-service biology teachers’ cognitive structures about “reproduction” by categories.
Categories Concepts under categories and their frequencies Total frequencies of categories
“male reproductive system” (4)
“female reproductive system” (4)
1. Structures required for reproduction
“oviduct” (uterine tube) (2)
“fallopian tube” (4)
2. Reproduction in plants and sections
“sexual reproduction” (14)
“asexual reproduction” (13)
3. Types of reproduction
“continuation of generation” (3)
“new individual” (3)
6. Defining reproduction and its importance
Total 46 words 321
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Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 579
While most of the participants wrote “sexual reproduction”,
“asexual reproduction” and “conjugation”, some others wrote
“spermatogenesis”, “vegetative”, and “parthenogenesis”. The
words “amitosis”, “oogamy”, “oogenesis”, “metagenesis” and
“cloning” were excluded from this category.
In the fourth category, participants presented associations re-
lated to “insemination” (f = 35). They mostly focused on the
words “zygote”, “insemination” and “embryo” in this category,
whereas a very limited number of them wrote “fetus” and blas-
tula”. The words “semen”, “sperm alternation”, “morula” and
gastrula” were written for once and thus excluded from analy-
In the fifth category, participants presented associations re-
lated to “reproduction-inheritance” (f = 35). While most of
them focused on the words “meiosis” and “mitosis”, a lesser
number wrote “chromosome”, “division”, “crossover” and “di-
versity”. The words that were written in this category only for
once by the participants and thus were excluded are the follow-
ing: “DNA”, “gene”, “genetics”, “genetic data”, “homologous
chromosome”, “meiosis-1”, “meiosis-2” ,“metaphase”, “pro-
phase”, “chromosome”, “recessive”, “infertile”, “transfer” and
The sixth category, finally, consisted of associations related
to “defining reproduction and its importance” (f = 18). While
the participants mostly presented the words “proliferation” and
“copulation”, a lesser number of them wrote “continuation of
generation”, “new individual” and “continuity”.
Findings Obtained from the Drawing-Writing
The drawing-writing technique produced six categories. The
following categories were produced in the drawing technique:
structures required for reproduction (43), insemination (31),
types of reproduction (17), reproduction and inheritance (12),
reproduction in plants and sections (7) and reproductive anat-
omy (4); whereas the following categories were produced in the
writing technique: types of reproduction (18), reproduction and
inheritance (8), defining reproduction and its importance (8),
structures required for reproduction (6), insemination (6) and
reproductive anatomy (4) (Table 3).
It was observed that the pre-service biology teachers domi-
nantly thought about concepts related to “structures required
for reproduction” in both techniques drew relevant figures and
wrote explanations. In the category of “structures required for
reproduction”, they talked mostly about “sperm” and “egg”,
and presented relevant drawings. Table 4 shows examples from
what the pre-service teachers drew on the concept of reproduc-
On the other hand, analyses pertaining to the drawings of the
pre-service biology teachers on reproduction are presented in
Table 5 under the following relevant levels: non-representative
drawings (30), drawings with alternative conceptions (11),
partial drawings (2) and conceptual representative drawings
(2). In determining these levels, the data were grouped from
level 1 to level 5 (Bahar et al., 2008; Bartoszeck, Machado, &
Amann-Gainotti, 2008; Cinici, 2013; Reiss & Tunnicliffe,
2001). In this framework, non-representative drawings fell
under a total 4 categories (structures required for reproduction,
insemination, types of reproduction, and reproduction and
inheritance); drawings with alternative conceptions fell under 6
categories (structures required for reproduction, insemination,
reproduction and inheritance, defining reproduction, reproduc-
tive anatomy and types of reproduction); partial drawings fell
under 4 categories (structures required for reproduction, types
of reproduction, insemination, and defining reproduction); and
conceptual representative drawings fell under 2 categories (re-
production in plants and sections, and types of reproduction).
As Table 5 shows, there is no participant at level 1 who did
not draw anything on the concept of reproduction. It was de-
termined that 28 participants provided non-representative
drawings at level 2, 9 participants presented drawings with
alternative conceptions at level 3, 5 participants at level 4 pre-
sented partial drawings, and 2 participants at level 5 presented
conceptual representative drawings. This shows that 3/4 of the
participants expressed their cognitive structures about repro-
duction through non-representative drawings. When 9 other
participants who presented drawings with alternative concep-
tions are added to this percentage, it appears that a very high
percentage of the participant pre-service Biology teachers ex-
pressed their cognitive structures about reproduction through
non-representative drawings and drawings that include alterna-
tive conceptions. It means that they explained the subject with
simple, vague and non-scientific drawings without thinking
about the subject in length and breadth. Therefore, it is con-
cluded that they express conceptual structures with personal-
ized figures, and that their academic cognitive structures are
insufficient. It was observed that these drawings were mostly
concentrated on the category of “structures required for repro-
duction”, and that their conceptual representative drawings,
which were on the subject of reproduction in plants, were al-
Pre-Service Biology Teachers’ Alternative
Conceptions of Reproduction
Below, analyses of alternative conceptions presented by the
participants about the concept of reproduction are presented
with respect to assessment instruments.
Participants’ explanations regarding the category of “de-
Example from the independent word association test;
“…Reproduction is not an obligation for living beings”
(P35). Reproduction is obligatory for living beings in order for
them to maintain their existence. It was determined that the
participant had imperfect and incorrect knowledge.
Participants’ explanations regarding the category of “in-
Example from the drawing-writing technique;
“…living beings emerge as a result of consecutive mitotic
divisions of a zygote” (P13).
Participants’ explanations regarding the category of “de-
fining reproduction and its importance”;
Example from the drawing-writing technique;
“The male has a sexual intercourse with the female and a
then they have a child” (P8).
“It is the forming of a new individual through the combina-
tion of male and female reproductive cells under appropriate
“Zygote is produced as a result of the fertilization of egg
(female reproductive cell) and sperm (male reproductive
cell)…” (P14; P15).
“Zygote is produced as a result of the fertilization of the egg
cell with n chromosome and the sperm cell…” (P13).
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Findings related to categories and sub-categories obtained using drawing-writing technique.
Main Category Sub-Category Drawing (f) Writing (f)
sperm 15 3
egg 14 3
female 5 -
male 5 -
female gamete (n) 2 -
male gamete (n) 2 -
1. Structures required for reproduction
Total 43 6
zygote 12 2
insemination 6 2
new individual 7 2
morula 2 -
blastula 2 -
gastrula 2 -
Total 31 6
sexual reproduction 4 5
asexual reproduction 3 5
vegetative reproduction 3 2
spore reproduction 3 2
gemmulation 2 2
conjugation 2 2
3. Types of reproduction
Total 17 18
mitosis 5 4
meiosis 3 4
N chromosome 2 -
transfer 2 -
4. Reproduction and inheritance
Total 12 8
pollination 3 -
ovary 2 -
flower 2 -
5. Reproduction in plants and sections
Total 7 0
vagina 2 2
penis 2 2
6. Reproductive anatomy
Total 4 4
continuation of generation - 2
productive insemination - 2
continuation of species - 2
male-female copulation - 2
7. Defining reproduction and its importance
Total 0 8
It was determined, based on the examples presented above,
that the pre-service biology teachers had imperfect and incur-
rect knowledge in the categories of “defining reproduction,
insemination, and defining reproduction and its importance”. It
was also observed that some participants fail to write proper
sentences, whereas some others fail to turn their sentences into
meaningful ones. This finding might have stemmed from the
participants’ insufficient cognitive structures or their problems
in expressing what they know. When all the data presented
above are evaluated together, it is concluded that the pre-ser-
vice teachers’ cognitive structures about reproduction fall under
certain categories. Assessing these data, the model about the
cognitive structures of pre-service biology teachers on the sub-
ject of reproduction was produced (Figure 1). According to the
analysis results, while 6 categories were defined in the inde-
pendent word association test regarding the participants’ cogni-
tive structures about reproduction, 6 categories were also de-
fined in the drawing-writing technique. As is seen in the Figure
1, the cognitive structures of the participants about the concept
of reproduction emerged in relation to a total of 7 categories.
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 581
Examples obtained through drawing-writing technique on the concept of reproduction.
Example drawings by categories
1. Category: S t ructures required for reproduction, P12
The participant drawing (P12) depicting which Structures require d
for reproduction is.
The participant mentions, “egg and sperm”.
2. Category: insemination, P7
The participant drawing (P7) depicting how zygote is.
The participant mentions, “zygote, male, female, reproduction and
3. Category: Types of reprod uc tio n, P 5
The participant drawing (P5) depicting how types of reproduction are.
The participant mentions, “conjugation and paramecium”.
4. Category: Reproduction and inhe ritance, P22
The participant drawing (P22) depicting how reproduction and
The participant mentions, “Reproduction: Formation of a new living
being as a result of productive fertilization between two living beings.
It occurs in many ways such as pollination, vegetation or spore.
When the living being A and the living being B copulate, the outcomes
produce one of living beings C, D, E or F”.
5. Category: Reproduction in plants and sec ti ons, P20
The participant drawing (P20) depicting how reproduction in plants and
The participant mentions, “The male has a sexual intercourse with the
female and a then they have a child.
Reproduction refers to living beings’ production of new similar
individuals in order to maintain their species. It is divided into two:
sexual and asexual. Reproduction in humans, reproduction in amoebas,
vegetative reproduction, reproduction in plants through pollination”.
6. Category: Reproductive anatomy, P8
The participant drawing (P8) depicting how Reproduct ive anatomy is.
The participant mentions, “The male has a sexual intercourse with the
female and a then they have a child. Vagina, penis, sperm”.
On the other hand, it was determined that alternative concep-
tions fell under a total of 3 categories.
Conclusion and Discussion
In this study, which was aimed at determining pre-service
biology teachers’ cognitive structures on the concept of repro-
duction; ample data that support, explain and detail one another
were obtained both through the independent word association
test and the drawing-writing technique.
The responses given in the independent word association test
were grouped under the following 6 categories: “structures
required for reproduction”, “reproduction in plants and sec-
tions”, “types of reproduction”, “insemination”, “reproduc-
tion-inheritance”, and “defining reproduction and its impor-
tance”. On the other hand, the drawing-writing technique pro-
duced the following 7 categories: “structures required for re-
production”, “insemination”, “types of reproduction”, “repro-
duction-inheritance”, “reproduction in plants and sections”,
“reproductive anatomy” and “defining reproduction and its
importance”. These findings show that detailed data can be
collected on the conceptual structure of the same subject by
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Analyses of drawings on reproduction.
Levels Drawing Examples
(n = 28)
The participant drawing (P2) depicting how reproduction
The participant mentions, “Reproduction occurs when the
male and female reproductive cells come together to
produce a fertile semen”.
The participant drawing (P31) depicting how fertilization occurs is.
The participant mentions, “Fertilization occurs with the copulation of
egg and sperm cells”.
(n = 9)
The participant drawing (P13) depicting how reproduction
The participant mentions, “The living being is formed by
undergoing mitotic divisions. Zygote emerges as the egg
cell with n chromosome and the sperm cell are matched,
and the organism emerges as a result of this zygote’s
consecutive mitotic divisions”.
The participant drawing (P17) depicting how reproduction occurs is.
The participant mentions, Sexual reproduction: It is the forming of a
new individual through the combination of male and female
reproductive cells under appropriate conditions. Asexual
reproduction: Separation of a part from an organism, and formation
of a new living being from that part. These two daughter cells are the
same as the mother cell.
(n = 5)
The participant drawing (P10) depicting how reproduction
The participant mentions, “meiosis, mitosis, division,
zygote, fetus, sperm, egg, insemination. Sperm + egg =
insemination, zygote, embryo, fetus”.
The participant drawing (P29) depicting how reproduction occurs is.
The participant mentions, “sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction,
zygote, sperm, egg, morula, gastrula. Sexual, asexual = sperm + egg
(sexual reproduction = zygote…mitosis …blastula, morula, gastrula”
(n = 2)
The participant drawing (P20) depicting how reproduction
The participant mentions, “Reproduction refers to living
beings’ production of new similar individuals in order to
maintain their species. It is divided into two: sexual and
asexual. Reproduction in humans, reproduction in
amoebas, vegetative reproduction,
reproduction in plants through pollination. Sperm + egg
= insemination, zygote, embryo, fetus”.
The participant drawing (P32) depicting how reproduction occurs is.
The participant mentions, “meiosis, mitosis, division, zygote, fetus,
sperm, egg, insemination. Reproduction occurs sexually or asexually.
In asexual one, the mother organism produces similar living beings. It
occurs as a result of mitotic division.
Examples are pollination, division, vegetative and spore reproduction.
In sexual reproduction, genetic data consists of two different gametes.
It occurs as a result of meiotic division and fertilization. Gametes are
produced as a result of meiotic division. They copulate and fertiliza-
tion takes place”.
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 583
using different assessment instruments that support one another.
Therefore, this research demonstrates that ample data can be
obtained by using different assessment instruments. Therefore,
the process of data diversification was executed in order to
ensure the validity and reliability of this qualitative research,
and the requirement of using different but supportive assess-
ment instruments for cognitive structure researches was satis-
fied. In both assessment instruments, the categories of “struc-
tures required for reproduction” and “types of reproduction”
emerged as common and dominant categories.
The findings suggest that the cognitive structures of the par-
ticipant pre-service biology teachers on the subject of reproduc-
tion are not sufficient, and that they have imperfect and incur-
rect knowledge; as they mostly presented associations in the
form of definitions about, for example, structures required for
reproduction, types of reproduction, defining reproduction and
explaining its importance. However, reproduction is a very
comprehensive subject, which pertains to all living beings
across biological systems, which differs by organisms, and
which requires micro- and macro-level associations. The con-
cept is also linked with numerous other subjects such as growth,
development, hormones, Mendel genetics, genes, chromosomes,
mitotic and meiotic division, and so forth (Krawczyk, 2007;
Sinan & Karadeniz, 2010; Wynne, Stewart & Passmore, 2001).
Therefore, it was observed that the participant pre-service boil-
ogy teachers failed to construct associations related to the de-
tails of the concept of reproduction and to express concepts at
an advanced cognitive level.
On the other hand, alternative conceptions of the participants
were also determined using both assessment instruments. It was
determined that some participants, in the category of “defining
reproduction” that requires basic knowledge, focused mostly on
the reproduction of human beings and have imperfect and in-
correct knowledge such as; “…Reproduction is not an oblige-
tion for living beings”, “The male has a sexual interc ourse with
the female and a then they have a child”, “It is the forming of a
new individual through the combination of male and female
reproductive cells under appropriate conditions”, “Zygote is
produced as a result of the fertilization of the egg cell with n
chromosome and the sperm cell”. This finding is further sup-
ported by the fact that the participants presented non-represen-
tative drawings at the level 2 and drawings with alternative
conceptions at the level 3. The relevant literature similarly in-
dicates that students from different educational levels have
imperfect and incorrect knowledge on the subject of defin-
ing-explaining reproduction. Sesli and Kara (2012) determined
that pre-service biology teachers mostly offered simple and
shallow explanations, and in general, they do not see reproduc-
tion as a common characteristic among living beings, they see
it as the copulation of male and female, they define reproduc-
tion only as fertilization, and they do not understand the re-
productive mechanism, its operation and synthesis mechanisms.
The literature is mostly in parallel with the findings of this
research. In the literature, it has been determined that partici-
pants had incompetence and alternative conceptions about the
following: chromosome, gene, meiotic division, mutation, mi-
totic division, modification, DNA (Akyurek & Afacan, 2012;
Aydin & Balim, 2013), genetic material and physical connec-
tion between chromosomes, continuity of genetic materials both
among and within organisms, relationship between the behav-
iors of chromosomes in cell division (Lewis et al., 2000a), ge-
netic transfer of knowledge and genes, chromosomes and cel-
lular structures (Robinson & Lewis, 2000), continuity of ge-
netic knowledge for single-cell organisms and genes (Lewis et
al., 2000b, 2000c), cell division (Emre & Bahsi, 2006), allele,
homologous chromosome, replicated chromosome, chromo-
some number and DNA strand, (Tekkaya et al., 2000), genetic
technology (Franke, Scharfenberg & Bogner, 2013), chromo-
some-DNA relationship, chromosome structure of cells that
emerge as a result of mitotic and meiotic division, dip-
loid-haploid cells, number of cells that emerge as a result of
meiotic and mitotic division, sister chromatids, instances in
mitotic and meiotic division (Atilboz, 2004).
It is also suggested, in studies on reproduction in plants, that
insufficiencies are widespread both in course books (Schussler,
2008) and participants, and that participants have alternative
conceptions (Bebbington, 2005; Hershey, 2004; Mak et al.,
In conclusion, findings of this study and of studies carried
out earlier suggest that participants from all academic levels
have imperfect cognitive structures about the concept of repro-
duction. This finding was obtained in this research using dif-
ferent assessment instruments. The finding that pre-service
Biology teachers, who are future Biology teachers, have imper-
fect cognitive structures about the concept of reproduction is of
high importance and it needs to be addressed with attention. For
teachers may transmit their cognitive insufficiencies to their
students and cause them to learn incorrectly.
Suggestions related to Education-Teaching Activities: It is
already known that students struggle to form their cognitive
structures about biological systems (Cimer, 2012; Hmelo-Silver
& Azevedo, 2006; Krawczyk, 2007; Lukin, 2013; Prokop et al.,
2007; Sinan & Karadeniz, 2010; Wynne, Stewart, & Passmore,
2001), and reproduction is among the most important concepts
under this category. The art of teaching science needs to be
reshaped in order to accomplish a positive transformation in
this regard and to overcome students’ above-mentioned strug-
gles (Gilbert et al., 1998a, 1998b; Schnotz & Preuß, 1997). It
has been widely accepted that the quality of instruction plays a
key role in students’ learning outcomes (Kuijpers, Houtveen, &
Wubbels, 2010; Ugwu & Soyibo, 2004). In this respect, teach-
ing practices, which allow students to learn by carrying out
laboratory applications, in which concepts are visualized in
printed materials, in which abstract concepts are concretized,
and in which students can learn by relating concepts to their
daily lives, should be given priority. It would be further useful
to benefit from technology in this process by offering com-
puter-aided and/or simulated teaching.
Beginning from the elementary school, students’ alternative
conceptions should be determined and eliminated, because they
bring along these alternative conceptions to subsequent aca-
demic levels and they negatively affect their cognitive struc-
tures. The alternative conceptions found in this research might
have been developed in grade levels prior to university.
Teachers should help students accurately construct their cog-
nitive structures by enabling them to become aware of their
own cognitive strategies and learning styles.
Biology curricula should be developed in a practice-oriented
way in which students can correctly construct their cognitive
structures about concepts.
It should always be kept in mind at all levels of education
H. KURT ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
that pre-service teachers should be provided with a quality
education so that they can do so with their future students.
In teaching the invisible abstract concepts, drawings may be
included intensively in every education level for the develop-
ment of visual images of students. Thus, students’ cognitive
structures can be formed as more powerful.
Appropriate course contents may be incorporated into the
teacher education programs to gain biological literacy and as-
sociative thinking skills with daily life. Thus, students may be
more interested in courses; their learning may be facilitated
because they could find answers to the biological, social and
individual questions that they are curious about.
Suggestions to future studies: such researches might be ex-
perimental or they might use other techniques such as two-stage
multiple-choice tests, drawings, interviews, independent word
association test, structured grid, diagnostic tree, concept maps,
conceptual change texts, analogy or prediction-observation-ex-
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