Burgoon et al (2011)

This US study explored the physical science conceptions of elementary science teachers to determine whether they are similar to those held by students. The study identified that teachers held misconceptions regarding gravity, magnetism, gases, and temperature and that these were similar to common student misconceptions.

Learners’ ideas

  • Students believed that some objects are inherently warmer or colder than other objects.
  • Some students believed gravity increases as objects increase their height above the ground.
  • Many students think that all metals are attracted to magnets.
  • Students link the physical size of magnets to their strength; large magnets are stronger than small magnets.
  • Students think that gases are lighter than solids or liquids.


  • The study suggests that focusing on research-based science misconceptions during professional development should support the teachers’ development of a more complete and accurate understanding of science content.

Study Structure


  • To determine whether teachers still possess conceptions similar to those held by students.

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected via a simple survey. The prevalence of misconceptions was then determined by (a) calculating the percentage of teachers who selected 'misconception-based distracters' in a multiple-choice exam, and (b) interpreting teacher responses to open-ended questions, coding for common misconceptions, and identifying the percentage of respondents that answered in this theme.

Several instruments were developed for this study. Some were from scratch while others were adaptations of existing instruments (e.g., Keeley et al. 2005, 2007, 2008). A multiple-choice questionnaire based upon Gronlund's (2003) rules for diagnostic question writing was used, and a set of open-ended items based on previously identified misconceptions from Driver et al. (1985) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1993) was also developed.

Details of the sample

The samples consisted of 103 elementary science teachers (36 third-grade teachers, 52 fourth-grade teachers, and 14 fifth-grade teachers) from Northwest Ohio. Teaching experience ranged from 2-33 years with a mean of 14.

The student sample numbered 296 (split across third and fifth grades, ages 8-11).


American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993), Project 2061: Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien, A. (Eds.) (1985), Children’s ideas in science, Open University Press.

Gronlund, Norman E. (2003), Assessment of Student Achievement, 7th edition, Allyn and Bacon.

Keeley, Page. et al. (2009), Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, vols. 1-4, 25 New Formative Assessment Probes, NSTA Press.


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