Using Drawings to Understand Children's Conceptual Knowledge of Plant
Structure and Function
Curriculum analysis has demonstrated that plants are under-represented in the K-12 science curriculum and
that a “plant blindness” exists in our culture (Wandersee and Schussler 2001; Lally et al 2007). Previous
research regarding plants and young children has been limited (Gatt et al, 2007; Boulter et al, 2003;
Tunnicliffe, 2001) particularly at the K-3 levels. In the limited studies available, Barman et al (2006) found
that K-8 students develop serious misconceptions about plants and plant growth. Research has
demonstrated that children develop notions about scientific phenomenon from an early age (French, 2004).
These explanations and conceptual understandings develop from children's exploration of their natural
worlds through their direct, concrete experiences with living organisms, life cycles, ecosystems and habitats
(NRC, 1996; Tunnicliffe, 2001) with much of this exploration involving the use of their senses such as touch
and smell (Tunnicliffe, 2001).
When examining plant growth needs, students' ideas and conceptions become more complex, resulting in
the emergence of various misconceptions. Where student misconceptions arise is in their conflation of ideas
around what plant needs are provided by people (e.g. house plants, gardens) (Barmen et al, 2006).
Additionally younger students will often anthropomorphize explanations around plant structure and function
with respect to their own experiences (Barmen et al, 2006; Osborne & Freyberg 1985; Stein & McNair,
2002). These misconceptions often are a direct result of their own experiences with plants in their everyday
lives (e.g. planting gardens, taking care of house /class plants). The purpose of this study is to examine
children's conceptual understanding of plant structure and function in early elementary classrooms.
Specifically we examine through the use of drawings, surveys and interviews: What is the conceptual
understanding of plant structure and function by children in kindergarten through third grade?
Using Drawings to Understand Children's Conceptions of Plants
Publications and Presentations
Anderson, J.L., Hoffman, A., Jones, A.M., & Ellis, J.P. (2012). Children's conceptual understanding of plant structure and function. Paper presented at the American Society of Plant Biologists, Austin, Texas. July 2012.
Anderson, J.L., Ellis, J.P. & Jones, A.M (2014). Understanding early elementary children's conceptual knowledge of plant structure and function through drawings. CBE Life Science Education, 13, 1-12.
Anderson, J.L., Ellis, J.P. & Jones, A.M. (2013). Children's conceptual knowledge of plant structure and function. Paper presented at the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
Anderson, J.L., Ellis, J.P. & Jones, A.M. (2013). Children and their conceptual knowledge of plant structure and function. Paper presented at the American Educational Reseach Association Meeting. San Francisco, CA.