New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Students’ Concepts of Plants

Gertraud Benke, University of Klagenfurt (Austria)


Students’ conceptions of plants is still a understudied area in biology education. Mostly, students’ understanding of plants is investigated in conjunction with students’ understanding of living things using a very small number of different plants (four to six). On average, students achieve a more mature understanding of life, incorporating humans, animals and plants into a general concept around eleven years of age (Hatano & Iganaki, 2002). For the (ongoing) study presented here, I interviewed a total of 33 students from 2nd to 4th grade, and additionally six middle school students focusing on their concepts of plants independently from their understanding of living things using 20 images of different plants as prompts (and 13 images of non-plants). First results indicate, that the middle school students have still a fragmentated understanding of what plants are, with problems to categorize wood or un-typical non-native plants, even though there are huge differences between students. Their reasoning is more complex than that of fourth graders, but the understanding of most of the interviewed student is no more sophisticated than that of fourth graders. In this talk I will discuss these differences and implications for teaching. 

Hatano, G., & Inagaki, K. (2002). Young children's thinking about biological world. Essays in developmental psychology. New York: Psychology Press.

Keywords: Conceptual change; biology education; plants; middle school students; 


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[2] Vosniadou S (ed.) “International Handbook of Research on Conceptual Change”, New York, NY: Routledge; 2008.
[3] Hatano G, Inagaki K. “Young children’s thinking about biological world”, New York: Psychology Press; 2002.
[4] Inagaki K, Hatano G. “Young children’s conception of the biological world” Current Directions in Psychological Science 2006;15(4):177–81.
[5] Benke G. “A situation theoretic approach to problems of referentiality in middle school students’ understanding of mathematical functions”, [Doctoral Thesis]. Palo Alto: University, Stanford; 2007.
[6] Barman CR, Stein M, McNair S, Barman NS. “Students’ ideas about plants & plant growth”, The American Biology Teacher 2006;68(2):73–9.
[7] Markman EM, Wachtel GF. “Children’s use of mutual exclusivity to constrain the meanings of words”, Cognitive psychology 1988;20(2):121–57.


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