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7. Previous Research

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My interest in misconception research started in 2001 when I took a College Science Teaching course as a graduate student with Dr. Sandi Abell at the University of Missouri.  One assignment we had in class was to identify misconceptions in a topic of interest.  During this assignment, we were to interview 3 "experts" and several people who represented our student population.  While interviewing one of my "experts", I discovered he held several misconceptions about molecular genetics -- misconceptions that were also present in my student population.  

As a new professor I was interested in continuing this question.  Dr. Pat Friedrichsen had recently joined our faculty, and Pat Brown was a graduate student in Education looking for a project, so we teamed up to investigate this question further.  From this experience, we presented our findings at NARST in 2004.  The assessment tool and resulting paper presented at the meeting are located in the files below. 

During this experience, we teased apart some misconceptions, or alternative conceptions.  Of the 12 students interviewed, 9 thought cells had only the genes they needed instead of the entire genome.  This misconception makes understanding DNA Fingerprinting in forensics and cloning difficult to understand.  Another misconception was the relationship between DNA, chromosomes and genes.  Many had established visual misconceptions of genes or chromosomes as the "rungs" on the DNA ladder (see Figures 1 and 2).  They recreated drawings they remembered from textbooks to justify their thinking, one a cartoon showing the large DNA ladder enlarged to show detail side-by-side with a photograph of the chromosomes in a cell, shown as very small in comparison.  Discovering these sources of misconceptions was as interesting to me as uncovering the misconceptions themselves.


Figure 1 - Student drawing of the relationship between chromosomes and DNA.  Student explained that DNA is chains of chromosomes linked together, as represented by his conceptualization of the DNA helix.


Figure 2 - Student explained that chromosomes must be part of the DNA helix because in a textbook he remembered a picture with a big DNA helix and several smaller chromosomes next to it.  The figure provided probably is not the exact picture the student was describing, but it is a representative of the type of imagery that confused the student.

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Files 2

FileSizeDateAttached by 
Paper with Pat Friedrichsen presented at NARST in 2004
2.28 MB15:43, 17 Jul 2008bstoneActions
Pre-test Assessment Tool used to identify some misconceptions
37.01 kB15:43, 17 Jul 2008bstoneActions
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