Science Students Misconceptions of the Water Cycle According to their Drawings
This study conducted by based on student drawings and
interviews was held with the aim of determining misconceptions of science
students receiving education in universities about the water cycle. There
are a number of techniques to indicate misconceptions of students. Open
ended questions, two-stage diagnosis tests, concept maps, word association
and interviews are some of these techniques. In addition, science educators
have started to use drawings methods in order to ensure students to understand
science and to obtain knowledge about their misconceptions recently. As
a result of analysis of drawings and interviews, it was seen that more
than half of students has comprehensive or partially conceptual knowledge,
but approximately one fourth of students has misconceptions about this
subject. In addition, it was determined that students have misconceptions
like water cycle is only evaporation of water from the earth to the atmosphere
and its return to the earth from the atmosphere by condensing.
The words human, environment and ecology are used as a whole today. There is
a regular relationship among all living things and non-living beings from continents
to oceans, lakes to streams, underground waters to atmosphere, microorganisms
to human and plants kingdom (Cetin, 2007; Leach
et al., 1996). Rapid increase in the world population within the
last 30-35 years, improvement in industry and technology, natural resources
started to extinct have let environmental problems to come to the agenda. Some
significant matters must be produced in an equal amount they are exploited in
order to lead liveliness in the nature without any interruption. These matters
having an ecological significance in the nature are given and taken between
living beings and their environment. These matters complete their circulation
by following certain orbits by means of solar energy. This circulation of matters
in the ecosystem is the matter cycle (Lin and Hu, 2003).
All matters are continuously reused by living things through cycle. Most significant
ones of these matter required for living things and to be transferred are water,
oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus and sulphur. Matter loss is never concerned
in the nature (Leach et al., 1996). Circulation
of matters in cells, tissues, system and organism, chemical reactions, sustainability
and consistency of the structure are ensured with water. Water is so significant
from this point. Water is in a continuous cycle (Ben-Zvi-Assarf
and Orion, 2005a; Kali et al., 2003).
Majority of studies held on field of science now focus on students understanding
of science and their misconceptions. Because, misconception is one of the significant
factors which affect learning. Misconception implies thinking patterns which
do not overlap with scientific realities with general meaning, rather contradicted
with them and are developed or made sense of by individuals specific to them
in their minds (Bahar, 2003). Since these thinking patterns
developed by students mostly based on their own interpretations are contrary
to scientific realities, they constitute a significant barrier against science
education (Tekkaya, 2003; Wandersee
et al., 1994). Students usually develop misconceptions as a result
of their own interpretations or from some contradictory explanations in school
or out of school environments in early periods of their school years (Bahar,
2003; Wandersee et al., 1994). Expressions
of teachers or those in text books also may lead to concept mistakes or may
enhance existing misconceptions of students in some circumstances (Sewell,
2002). Misconceptions are considerably widespread in formal education and
significantly resistant against change (Model et al.,
2005; Bahar, 2003). If they are not detected and
compensated, they continue for long years and constitute significant barriers
in understanding process. If science teachers and curriculum designers knew
students misconceptions ideas related to science concepts, it might be helpful
to prepare effective teaching schemes. In this situation, teachers can play
an important role in teaching these concepts (O-Saki and
Many misconceptions and understanding difficulties have been stressed in many
studies held related with ecology and environmental issues in recent years (Cetin,
2007; Sander et al., 2006; Ekborg,
2003, 2005; Kali et al.,
2003; Carlsson, 2002). However, any detail research
was not found related with the water cycle which is actually one of significant
concepts of ecology. Whereas the water cycle is among the most significant concepts
in ecology and environment. It is significant in terms of constructivist perspective
that students should have meaningful knowledge about ecological and environmental
concepts like the water cycle.
Smith and Anderson (1986) researched alternative concepts
of students related with matter cycles in the ecosystem. Students conceptions
of matter cycling processes remained fragmented even after instruction; only
4% of students understood that matter is converted back and forth between organisms
bodies and substances (carbon dioxide, water and minerals) in the environment.
Lin and Hu (2003) have caused 106 students from 7th class
drawn concept maps about energy flow and matter cycle and then analyzed them.
Results of their analysis evidenced that majority of students failed in defining
relations between different concepts about matter cycle and energy flow.
Boschhuizen and Brinkman (1995) determined in their study held on students
in 15-17 age group that high school students do not have sufficiently effective
mental models in subjects like water cycle, climate changes and carbon cycle.
Bar and Travis (1991) determined in their study held
on children from 5-15 age group relating to atmospheric components of water
cycle that concepts like condensation and evaporation may be perceived in about
11 years old. Bar and Galili (1994) detected in their
study that students have difficulties in understanding related with the difference
between water vapor and air. Ben-Zvi Assaraf and Orion (2005a)
evidenced in the study they held on students from 7th and 9th class in 6 central
schools of Israel relating to perceiving water cycle that students understand
hydro-bio-geological processes but most of them have insufficiency in perceiving
cyclical and dynamical perception of the system. Agelidou
et al. (2001) reported that most of the students in their research
held a perception of the groundwater as static, sub-surface lakes. Marques
and Thompson (1997) found that students incorporate a resemblance of a bowl
in order to explain that the depth and mass of water become greater toward the
center of oceans.
There are a number of techniques used to determine misunderstandings and misconceptions
of students. Open ended questions (Ozay and Oztas, 2003),
two-stage diagnosis tests (Treagust, 1988), concept maps
(Novak and Canas, 2004; Mason, 1992),
word association (Torkar and Bajd, 2006; Ben-Zvi
Assaraf and Orion, 2005b; Bahar et al., 1999)
and interviews (Abdullah and Scaife, 1997) may be given
as examples of these techniques. In addition, science educators also use drawings
methods in order to ensure students to understand science and to obtain knowledge
about their misconceptions. It was evidenced in some researches used this method
that they ensure reliable information about perception way of students against
a biological concept (Kose, 2008; Prokop
and Fancovicová, 2006; Reiss and Tunnicliffe, 2001;
Tunnicliffe and Reiss, 1999). Drawings have been considered
as simple research instruments that enable easy comparisons at the international
level (Kose, 2008; Prokop and Fancovicová,
2006; Reiss et al., 2002). While many children
dislike answering questions, drawings can be completed quickly, easily and in
an enjoyable way. Childrens drawings provide a window into their thoughts and
feelings, mainly because they reflect an image of his/her mind (Thomas
and Silk, 1990).
This study was conducted to assess the effect of drawing method in combination
with interview on determining Turkish university science students misconceptions
about the water cycle.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
A total of 156 university students who have been studying to become science
students participated in this study. All students studied at Selcuk University
Education Faculty in Turkey. The average age of students was 21.1 year
(range 20-26). The majority of students were females (105 of 156). But,
this study was not focused on gender differences. At the time of the data
collection, the majority of the participants were in their final semesters
of undergraduate science education. The participants demographics were
similar to the general pre-service primary science teacher population
in Turkey. Participants had been previously studying about the water cycle
in general biology, environment science as a school subject in various
Research was conducted in March 2008. Turkish university science students
understanding of the water cycle was examined by two different methods that
are not mutually exclusive: (1) students drawings (2) by individual interviews.
The participating students were asked to draw the water cycle on a blank piece
of A4-sized paper. There is evidence that students drawings may serve as a
useful tool for probing their level of understanding of natural phenomena and
as a tool for identifying the gap between students alternative conceptions
and the scientific view (Kose, 2008; Prokop
and FancovicovaAi, 2006; Reiss et al., 2002;
Reiss and Tunnicliffe, 2001; Tunnicliffe
and Reiss, 1999). Students responses to the drawing activity were analyzed
using a coding framework prepared by Kose (2008) and
Reiss and Tunnicliffe (2001). Drawings were dealt with
as a whole and analyzed with the method of point scoring by taking into account
units on drawings. Units on drawings were taken into account in evaluation of
drawings instead of painting skills. Five levels of conceptual understanding
were identified for this investigation: no drawing, non-representational drawings,
drawings with misconceptions, partial drawings and comprehensive representation
drawings. Details of the levels are as follows:
Level 1: No drawing: Students replied, I dont know, or no response
was given to the statement.
Level 2: Non-representational drawings: These drawings were including
identifiable elements of the water cycle. Also the answers, which include
diagrams or formulations instead of the drawings, were evaluated in this
category. This category is shown by example in Fig. 1.
|| Non-representational drawings (Example of level 2)
Level 3: Drawings with misconceptions: These types of drawings
showed some degree of understandings on the water cycle concepts but also
demonstrated some misconception; however, these drawings were misconceptions
not understandings held by scientists or stated in science texts. This
category is shown in Fig. 2a-c.
Level 4: Partial drawings: The drawings in this category were demonstrating
partial understanding of the concepts. Includes the drawings of the water cycle
elements like cloud, evaporation, raining and atmosphere (Fig.
Level 5: Comprehensive representation drawings: Drawings in this
category were the most competent and realistic drawings of the water cycle
(Fig. 4). Drawings showing sound understanding, contained
seven or more elements of the validated response for that particular statement.
After the drawings were evaluated according to the criteria above, individual
interviews were conducted about the detailed subjects with randomly chosen
15 students (9 female, 6 male) who demonstrated misconceptions. The purpose
was to check the validity of the interpretation of the drawings. In the
interview, students were asked to answer the questions like;
|| (a, b, c) Drawings with misconceptions (Example of
|| Partial drawings (Example of level 4)
|| Comprehensive representation drawing (Example of level
||What is the water cycle in your opinion?
||What are the effects of human activities on water cycle in your
||What do you think about starting and end points of water cycle?
The obtained answers were given below by comparing with the drawings.
In order to determine understanding of students attitudes against the
water cycle shown in Fig. 5. It represents that majority
of students (44%) concentrated on partial drawings (level 4). Ratio of
misconceptions of students was determined as 26% (level 3). In addition,
18% of students made completely accurate drawings but 10% made non-representational
drawings. Moreover, it was detected that 2% of students did not make any
||Levels of science students conceptual understanding
for water cycle
These results evidence that more than half of students has comprehensive
or partially conceptual knowledge, but approximately one forth of students
has misconceptions about this subject.
|| The most frequent elements for water cycle drawn by
The elements most frequently repeated by students related with the water
cycle are shown in Table 1. As shown in Table
1, more than half of students concentrated on elements like ground
waters, evaporation, precipitation and atmosphere. On the other hand,
it is reported that less than half of students display the elements like
condensation, underground water, living things, soil, sun, respiration,
photosynthesis, transpiration, waste water in their drawings. These results
evidence that knowledge of students related with the water cycle is limited
with flow of water in non-living systems. Students think that water cycle
is only evaporation of water on the earth to the atmosphere and its return
to the earth from the atmosphere by condensing. More than half of students
do not take into account the sun which activates water cycle. Moreover,
most of students do not take into account that narrow underground water
is received by plant roots and re-involved in the atmosphere from leaf
surfaces by way of transpiration and photosynthesis event realized in
plants. A great majority of students did not also emphasize respiration
event realized in living organisms.
Five misconceptions related with water cycle were determined in total
as a result of analysis held on students drawings. These misconceptions
are shown in Table 2.
In addition, number of misconceptions were found as a result of interviews
held on randomly selected among students having misconceptions in their
drawings. Misconceptions obtained from interviews are shown in Table
3. Students in whom misconceptions were determined thing that water
cycle is only composed of the process of evaporation of water from the
earth to the atmosphere and return to the earth from the atmosphere by
condensing. Moreover, some misconceptions were also determined from students
regarding as follows: water cycle only includes freezing and melting processes
of water, water only evaporates from seas and oceans, water cycle only
includes rain and snow, rain falls only when clouds evaporate.
|| Misconceptions about the water cycle obtained in the
||Misconceptions about the water cycle obtained in the
||A drawing of misconceptions water cycle only includes
freezing and melting processes of water
were not aware of significant factors in occurrence of water cycle like
gravity, air currents, surface flows etc.
It is seen that misconceptions obtained from interviews overlap with
misconceptions detected on drawings. This situation verifies the validity
of misconceptions obtained from drawings.
Five among students interviewed stated that water cycle only includes
freezing and melting processes of water (Fig. 6). These
students thought the influence of only non-living water atmospheres in
the water cycle. Four among students interviewed thought that water amount
in the biosphere differs according to climate conditions. However, they
were not aware that water amount in the biosphere remains unchanged. Two
among students interviewed thought that living things cannot exploit waters
in seas and oceans since they are salty.
||A drawing of misconceptions of water cycle only includes
the process of evaporation and condensation
||A drawing of misconceptions of water only evaporates
from seas and oceans
However, living things have the
characteristic of exploiting all water resources in the nature in different
ways. Students considered water which can be exploited as just drinking
waters. Four among students interviewed stated that water amount in biosphere
is gradually declining due to global warming. It can be thought that students
have this viewpoint since there is water shortage in some regions of Turkey
especially in the last 10 years. Seven among students interviewed thought
that water cycle is only the process of evaporation of water on the earth
to the atmosphere and its return to the earth from the atmosphere by condensing
(Fig. 7). Three among students interviewed stated that
water only evaporates from seas and oceans (Fig. 8).
One among students interviewed stated that rain falls when clouds are
completely filled up with water.
In addition to these, one among students interviewed stated that water
cycle is only composed of rain and snow (Fig. 2a).
It was determined that students have various misconceptions about water cycle
in this study held through based on drawings of university science students
and interviews held with them. Analysis of drawings evidences that conceptual
understandings of students are not adequate in terms of especially atmospheric
cycle of water and connection between this and geospheric underground water,
circulation of water cycle, flow of water between living and non-living systems,
significant water resources. Approximately one forth of students made drawings
including misconception. Majority of misconceptions determined are similar to
misconceptions mentioned in earlier researches held other countries on some
periods of school life (Ben-Zvi-Assarf and Orion, 2005a,
b; Agelidou et al., 2001;
Dove, 1997; Bar and Galili, 1994;
Brody, 1993; Bar and Travis, 1991;
Bar, 1989). However, some misconceptions determined in
this research have emerged for the first time. These are as follows: The process
of evaporation of water from the earth is only determined by the sun. Water
amount in biosphere is gradually declining due to melting of glaciers. Underground
water cannot be drunk since they are polluted, they can only be drunk after
being purified, living things cannot exploit waters in seas and oceans since
they are salty. Water amount in biosphere is gradually declining due to global
These alternative conceptions result from education received by students in
different education stages beginning from childhood. Studies held in Turkey
evidence that the teachers giving lectures in primary and secondary education
use traditional teaching methods instead of alternative teaching approaches.
Moreover, Asci et al. (2001) stated that students
coming from secondary education to universities come with a number of misconceptions.
Continuance of misconceptions during university education shows that how misconceptions
are resistant against change (Model et al., 2005;
Bahar, 2003; Wandersee et al.,
1994). For this reason, teachers working in primary and secondary education
and instructors giving courses in universities have a great duty in terms of
using new teaching strategies which will remove or minimize these misconceptions.
If we consider that these students will graduate from university and start to
teach within one year, being graduated from university with misconceptions is
also so significant in terms of problems to occur during their teaching process.
University students should be educated with effective teaching methods which
will prevent misconceptions. By this way, misconceptions of teachers will be
changed and they will be ensured to have scientifically valid concepts. Conceptual
change strategies like concept maps, concept networks and conceptual change
texts are the methods which will reduce or eliminate misconceptions of students
(Novak and Canas, 2004; Tekkaya, 2003;
Sungur et al., 2001; Wandersee et al., 1994;
Novak et al., 1983).
Misconceptions university students have related with water cycle focus on following
statements (Table 2, 3): these are as follows;
amount of water vapor in the air remains unchanged, water cycle only includes
the process of evaporation of water on the earth to the atmosphere and its return
to the earth from the atmosphere by condensing, water amount in the biosphere
differs according to climate conditions, water cycle includes freezing and melting
processes of water, water only evaporates from seas and oceans, water cycle
is only composed of rain and snow, rain falls when clouds are completely filled
up with water etc. Such misconceptions are seen in students in every stage of
school life from primary education to university (Brody, 1993;
Use of student drawings and interviews with appropriate sampling sizes
ensured determination of many alternative viewpoints science students
have related with the water cycle. The most remarkable evidence of the
existing study is that majority of students start university with misconceptions
or partial knowledge about the water cycle and graduate from university
with almost same misunderstandings. This evidence is surprising since
the subject of the water cycle exists in primary and secondary school
curriculum. Evidences obtained from drawings and interviews of students
indicate that majority of students cannot establish a correlation between
the water cycle and steps of this cycle. It was seen that science students
participated in this study has a divided knowledge framework concerning
the water cycle.
The most common misconception noted from drawings and interviews with students
is their perception as follows: Water cycle includes the process of evaporation
of water on the earth to the atmosphere and its return to the earth from the
atmosphere by condensing. This misconception may result from students themselves,
their teachers or text books. Dikmenli and Cardak (2004)
emphasizes that a significant source of misconceptions is text books. For
this reason, awareness of teachers in this type of misconceptions and misconceptions
in text books is considerably important. These and similar misconceptions may
be overcome especially with concept maps or models stressing inter conceptual
relations. Novak et al. (1983) stated that concept
maps are good methods in elimination of misconceptions. Moreover, students may
encounter with misconceptions during their own researches by means of educators
and unconfigured activities while studying with models. By this way, students
confront with misconceptions they have and may attempt to correct them after
entering into a conceptual conflict.
Analysis indicate that students perceive the water cycle as an unconcerned
series of knowledge. Students understand various processes related with the
water cycle but they do not understand systematic structure of the water cycle
as a whole. A significant segment of students was aware of the components of
the water cycle related with the atmosphere but was not aware of the significance
of underground water in the water cycle. Moreover, students more stressed the
influence of human factor on the water cycle in interviews rather than drawings.
These results displayed a close similarity with the studies of Ben-Zvi-Assarf
and Orion (2005a).
Understandings of students related with cyclical structure of water are affected
with their ability of synthesizing water elements in a system. Specifically
cycle is can be formed by determining relations and connections between these
elements. These connections serve as a mechanism by which students can form
a whole cycle (Orion, 2002). Drawings and interviews also
displayed misconceptions of students regarding effects of human activities on
the water cycle and relative amounts of different water reservoirs on the earth.
These evidences are similar to the evidences of the study held by Gudovitch
(1997) relating to the carbon cycle between classes 11 and 12. Analysis
of students drawings evidenced the difficulties experienced by students in
associating formal education with real world phenomenon. While most students
disregard the effect of humans on the water cycle, interviews evidenced that
most of students are aware of the increase in water pollution caused by humans.
These results are similar to results of Dove et al.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Following results were displayed with this study:
Majority of students could not establish correlation between atmospheric
water cycle and geospheric underground water cycle. Most students perceived
underground water as a lake without any connection between water and rocks
on ground and as a separate system. Moreover, students more stressed the
influence of human factor on the water cycle in interviews rather than
drawings. Most students correlated relative size of oceans with rain amounts
fallen on these regions. Most students experienced difficulty in perceiving
moving of water in reservoirs on ground and gathering the elements in
a whole system. Moreover, it was again evidenced that drawing method along
with interviews is an effective method in discovering concepts students
have difficulty in understanding and misconceptions. In this regard, use
of drawing method in determination of misconceptions or preliminary knowledge
is recommended in following studies.
It is recommended that science education should focus on studying natural
cycles in context of their effects on daily lives of humans instead of
separating these cycles into specific scientific fields with the aim of
providing fundamental instruments for citizens to ensure them dealing
with ecology and environment.
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