Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Ronald Good


The Instrument for Free Sorting of Biology Concepts was used to assess understanding of the relationships among 37 biology concepts by five groups: (1) Preservice secondary science teachers (PSR) (2) Inservice biology teachers with 1-3 years of teaching experience (NOV). (3) Inservice biology teachers with 5 or more years of experience (EXP). (4) Scientists in any biological science field (e.g., microbiology, botany) (SCI). (5) College seniors majoring in biology (MAJ). Data collected from the F-Sort of Biology concepts were analyzed using Latent Partition Analysis and Alpha Factor Analysis with additional interpretation from multidimensional scaling. The subjects were asked to think aloud as they performed the F-Sort and each session was audio-taped for later analysis. These analyses indicate that the biology major (MAJ) and experienced secondary science teachers (EXP) were separated from the scientists by a dimension based on a deep versus surface structure understanding of the concepts. A second axis shows that SCI are separated from the other groups by a fluid versus fixed cognitive structure dimension. That is, both EXP and SCI were found to have well constructed and ordered cognitive structures, but SCI were much more likely to see an item having a place in two or more categories, whereas EXP tended to focus on only one aspect of an item, and therefore understanding that it rightfully belonged in only one category. It appears that teachers restructure their science knowledge as they become more experienced. There is an apparent transition from poorly organized to highly organized cognitive structures for biology concepts when comparing PSR, NOV, and EXP respectively. The transition does not seem to be one achieving a deeper understanding of the biology concepts or to a greater degree of integration of the concepts, but rather a transition from a fairly large, loosely organized pool of biology concepts to one which is highly structured but limited to the expectations of the established curriculum.