New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

U.S. Teachers' Knowledge of Basic Science

Robert Slater, The University of Louisiana at Lafayette (United States)

Maria E. Slater, The University of Lafayette (United States)


While science has become an intricate part of our lives, many Americans remain ignorant of basic science facts. For example, when adult Americans were asked in a series of national surveys whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice-versa, as many as 20 percent of them said the sun revolves around the earth.[1]   But perhaps more concerning still is that on the same surveys between 7 to 17 percent of American K-8 teachers got the earth-sun question wrong as well!  There are about 1.7 million elementary teachers in the U.S. who teach all subjects every day to 20 or so students in a self-contained classroom. If only 7 percent of elementary teachers got the question wrong, and if they each teach 20 children, then about 3.4 million American elementary school students are being taught science daily by teachers who do not know whether the earth goes around the sun or vice-versa. The pattern is similar for other questions. Another true-false question, for example, asks whether electrons are smaller than atoms and in this case about one-quarter of Americans in general and teachers in particular say that it is false that electrons are smaller than atoms. Anywhere from 6 to 14 percent of teachers do not know that the continents were once joined but have been separating and will continue to do so. About 8 percent do not know that they center of the earth is hot. Over 20 percent believe that antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. About 18 percent do not know that the father's gene decides whether the baby is a boy or girl. Over 10 percent say that the sun never shines at the South Pole, and, finally, about 40 percent say that the statement "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" is false. The implications of these data for teacher professional development are explored. 

Keywords: Teachers science knowledge.


  • National Opinion Research Center, The General Social Survey, 1972-2018.  Chicago: NORC, 2018.


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