Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Barbara M. Strawitz


It is difficult for a teacher to determine if a learner has acquired an accurate concept of the topic being taught. Most of the children in this study had sufficient language skills to communicate successfully with their teachers even though they held inappropriate concepts of photosynthesis. This study examined the use of drawing tasks to assess children's ideas related to photosynthesis in an elementary-grade classroom. Two research questions guided the study to determine if this strategy was a valid improvement over traditional methods of classroom instruction. The first question asked if elementary-grade students receiving instruction about photosynthesis would acquire and retain more knowledge when facilitated by teacher-analysis of their drawing tasks than students who received didactic instruction. The second question sought to determine if a fifth-grade teacher guided by students' drawing tasks depicting their concepts of photosynthesis could effect more appropriate conceptual change than a teacher using didactic instruction. Two fifth grade treatment groups were used in the study. The teacher in the traditional treatment used didactic methods to instruct and evaluate the learner's concepts. The teacher in the experimental treatment used the learner's drawing tasks to communicate and facilitated activities to challenge and change inaccurate concepts. The quantitative results of a pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest were analyzed by ANCOVA with repeated measures to answer the first question. Clinical interviews, classroom observations, and student artifacts provided data for a qualitative analysis of the second question. These data were examined and analyzed in correspondence with children's written test responses. Students in the experimental treatment were found to acquire a greater amount of content knowledge than those in the traditional treatment. However, retention of knowledge was not significantly different between the two groups. The teacher in the experimental treatment was determined to facilitate a change to an appropriate concept of photosynthesis in more students than the teacher in the traditional treatment. The experimental treatment was found to provide an accurate depiction of the children's concepts while the traditional, didactic-style treatment seemed to influence children to conceal their inaccurate concepts of photosynthesis.