Microbiological Misconceptions in
Secondary School Science
by Christine Dunnington Fenton M.Sc.
National Convenor Special Interest Group
Education, New Zealand Microbiological Society - www.nzms.org.nz
Christine Dunnington Fenton M.Sc,
Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki
Michael Fenton M.Sc, Dip Tchg;
Inglewood High School
Steve Flint PhD, Fonterra Research
Robin Simmonds PhD, Dip Tchg, Otago
Edward Smolinski, Fonterra Clandeboye
Lynn McIntyre PhD, Massey University
"Science facts are science facts and where and
how they are assessed should make no difference. Or so I thought..."
Many errors were created by the contextual type
of questioning - with a generalised, stock answer that often, in that
particular context, was wrong.
I love publishers that send me free books!
Teaching resource books or publications often cross my desk in the hope
that we will recommend them to our classes and add them to our text
book list. When I get hold of these books I devour their contents. My
career has evolved from being a scientist to a science educator but the
content, knowledge and the information that is my scientific discipline
still fascinates me. I am always on the look out for a good text and
good readily available remedial books.
It is a fact, that in the tertiary sector,
you can no longer take it for granted that a student leaving secondary
school has achieved a full education in basic scientific concepts and
many of the more mature students may have never completed a secondary
school maths or science course. So, the cheap, concise revision aid has
great value. The fact that most of these revision booklets are
orientated at the National Certificate of Educational Achievement
(NCEA) as our national qualification at secondary school makes no
matter. Science facts are science facts and where and how they are
assessed should make no difference. Or so I thought.
When one such booklet crossed my path, I
turned straight to the section on microbiology. In particular, NCEA
level 1, achievement standard 90188: Describe aspects of biology. I was
shocked with how wrong the information was. I was at that time, the
national convenor of the Special Interest Group (SIG) in Education for
the New Zealand Microbiological Society and had been seeking a project
that the SIG could participate in. This Special Interest group's
purpose is to promote, disseminate and support knowledge of
microbiology in the education sector in New Zealand.
I had found my project! I quickly contacted
various members of the NZMS that had expressed an interest in education
and formed a panel consisting of academics at university, industry
microbiologists, those in research, and some microbiologists with
teaching qualifications and experience with NCEA. I sent them the
booklet and contacted the publisher with my concerns. The publisher was
more than happy for us to review the book and submit a report but he
felt confident that his content and his authors were correct and that
people in the tertiary education sector often misunderstand what is
required at the secondary level.
A 4500 word report compiled from the comments
of all the reviewers was written outlining the errors in the booklet
reviewed and submitted to the publisher. To the credit of the
publisher, most of the errors were quickly altered, and another edition
was quietly released.
It has now been the topic of conversation at
two national conferences - how did the information get so wrong?
Further investigation has shown that many
of these types of publications are based on actual external NCEA
questions and so a review of all the NCEA questions relating to this
achievement standard was done and a report was submitted to the NZQA.
The response from Dr Karen Poutasi (CEO)
was positive and included the following comment:
"Assessment schedules are neither designed
nor published to replace textbooks or to inform publishers." And, "I am
able to advise you that the National Assessment Facilitator for Biology
will be conveying the concerns you have raised to a meeting of the
Analysing all the sources of information
that is commonly on hand to a science teacher in most secondary schools
in NZ we find 3 major microbiological misconceptions. Many errors were
created by the contextual type of questioning - with a generalised,
stock answer that often, in that particular context, was wrong.
The NZMS had real fears that any
student that had a more than superficial knowledge of the content could
lose marks for applying their knowledge correctly and not answering
with the generalised, stock answer. There was evident in some NZQA
marking criteria statements that related to viral replication that
applied generalised answers to specific contextual questions making the
answer effectively incorrect.
We do understand that at level 1
the examiner would not be looking for in-depth subject knowledge, but
as a professional society of scientists, we would like to clarify the
most common misconceptions in the hope of supporting the teacher and
the learner both.