Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are one of the most difficult topics for primary school students.
In accordance with Slovenian curriculum the elementary students learn about photosynthesis (more detailed) in the 6th grade, just like about the process of cellular respiration.
In higher classes of elementary school and later on, in high school, the knowledge of science education gets elevated and builds links with other educational topics.
Photosynthesis is a complex biological process with a number of conceptual aspects and forms the basis of understanding the ecology and functioning of ecosystems. Cellular respiration is composed of a number of metabolic processes, which are complementary to each other and for their understanding it is necessary to have a good knowledge of molecular chemistry. An understanding of both processes leads to the creation of the misconceptions that are then transmitted in further education.
The goal of our study was to gain insight into the knowledge of primary school pupils in Primorska about the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration, and to determine whether they also have typical misconceptions associated with these processes. At the same time, we wanted to check the attitude of pupils toward photosynthesis.
The research was conducted on a sample of 307 pupils of three primary schools in Primorska. It included the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade. The test of knowledge contained 17 questions and the questionnaire had 2 questions. 18 questions were multiple choice questions and one question was open-ended. Questions checked students views of photosynthesis, researched their knowledge and understanding of the process of photosynthesis and the link between photosynthesis and cellular respiration. We found that most of the pupils think that photosynthesis is important for life on Earth (89,1%), but only a third of pupils (35,3%) found it interesting. Less than half of the pupils (41,5%) think that they will benefit from knowledge of photosynthesis and think that it is important for general education (48,4%). 35,8% of pupils were inteserted in biology.
We set up four working hypotheses, of which three were accepted in full and one in part.
Students have shown an insufficient knowledge about the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration and it was mostly memorized.
Students of higher classes had a better knowledge of photosynthesis than students of lower classes and there were no differences in knowledge between girls and boys (revealed only in the answer to one question.).
We also found some typical misconceptions related to photosynthesis and cellular respiration, which were found in at least one fifth of the students in our study, for example were: water is food for plants, the main function of photosynthesis is the formation of oxygen, the plants draw food from the soil, the photosynthesis in plants takes place when cellular respiration does not and vice versa, etc.