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Alternative Conceptions In Animal Classification Focusing On Amphibians And Reptiles: A Cross-Age Study

C. Yen, Tsung-Wei Yao, Yu-Chih Chiu
Published 2004 · Geography

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This study examined students’ alternative conceptions of reptiles and amphibians and the extent to which these conceptions remain intact through the elementary (grades 4 and 6), junior, and senior high school years. We administered multiple-choice and free-response instruments to a total of 513 students and interviewed at least 20 students at each educational level to get an in-depth view of their original conceptions. Then, we developed and administered a two-tier multiple choice diagnostic instrumentto assess various levels of students’ understanding of amphibians and reptiles(N=1267). The results showed that most students were able to classify snakes as reptiles, whereas fewer than 30% of the students across different ages classified sea turtles as reptiles; the remaining 70% classified sea turtles as amphibians. More students were able to correctly classify frogs as amphibians than toads. In most instances, students correctly classified “prototypical” representatives of the two animal classes more readily than less exemplary representatives, a finding that supports previous research (Trowbridge, J.E. andMintzes, J.J. (1988). Alternative conceptions in animal classification: A cross-age study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 25(7), 547–571). Interestingly, the alternative views of sea turtles as amphibians remained intact throughout the school years. Interview data indicated that students classified sea turtles as amphibians largely because sea turtles are able to live in terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Semantically, “amphi” means living on land and in water. When asked to distinguish between reptiles and amphibians and to classify several species into those two groups, a wide range of alternative conceptions emerged and the origin of those alternative conceptions are discussed. Similar results were obtained when we applied a two-tier multiple-choice diagnostic instrument to assess students’ understanding of amphibians and reptiles.
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