Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Early Childhood Education

First Advisor

Olga S. Jarrett - Chair

Second Advisor

Barbara Meyers

Third Advisor

Geeta Verma

Fourth Advisor

Susan Swars


Research on conceptual change provides strong evidence that not only children but also many adults have incorrect or incomplete understanding of science concepts. This mixed methods study was concerned with preservice and inservice teachers’ understanding of six earth and space science concepts commonly taught in elementary school: reasons for seasons, phases of the moon, reasons for the wind, the rock cycle, soil formation, and earthquakes. The first part of the study determined and compared the level of conceptual understanding held by both groups on topics they will need to teach in the Georgia Performance Standards [GPS]. The second part focused on whether readings or hands-on learning stations, in some cases combined with concept mapping, improves preservice teachers’ understanding of these concepts. The third part described the application of conceptual change strategies of one group of preservice teachers during their field placements. The overall sample was two cohorts of preservice teachers, one cohort of preservice teachers from an alternative initial certification program, and two masters’ cohorts consisting of inservice teachers. Four data sources were: a six item open-ended survey, concept maps, the field assignments, and the researcher’s field notes. Rubrics were used to score answers to each survey question. Concept map scores were calculated based on the criteria developed by Novak and Gowin (1984). The first part of the study shows that both preservice and inservice teachers have low conceptual understanding of the earth science concepts taught in elementary school. Independent samples t-tests results indicate that both groups have similar understanding about these concepts. A two way ANOVA with repeated measures analysis demonstrated that readings and learning stations are both successful in building preservice teacher’s understanding and that benefits from the hands-on learning stations approached statistical significance. A paired samples t-test shows that concept mapping added to the participants’ conceptual understanding whether the participants learned the concepts through readings or stations. Finally, field assignments allowed the participants to apply knowledge that they learned in their science methods course in their classroom placements. This study has implications for teacher preparation programs, staff development, and conceptual change practices in field placements.