Poster Session P7.2 Assessing middle school and college students' conceptions about tornadoes and other weather phenomena

Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Madison Ballroom (Hilton DeSoto)
Elizabeth Polito, San Francisco State Univ., San Francisco, CA ; and K. Tanner and J. P. Monteverdi

Handout (152.5 kB)

Meteorological content is presented in K-12 educational standards and in university general education courses, yet little research has been done to explore how students conceptualize weather phenomena. Presented here is an overview of a three-phase project designed to assess student conceptions of tornadoes and other phenomena (wind and fog). The subject population consisted of 6th grade Earth science students, and university non-meteorology and meteorology major students. All students were enrolled in schools in San Francisco, CA. The phases consisted of (a) a fifteen-question survey, (b) written essay assessments, and (c) videotaped interviews. Phase I, a weather survey, was given to the entire population (~65 middle school students, ~65 university non-meteorology majors, and ~10 university meteorology majors) and consisted of 10-15 challenge statements. Challenge statements assert a common misconception or truism and ask the students to rank their level of agreement on a 4-point Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). Challenge statements for phase II were based upon analysis of phase I questions where student responses exhibited a bimodal distribution. Phase II presented the students a smaller subset of statements, and they again chose a level of agreement on a Likert scale, and were given 5 minutes explain why they chose their response. To quantify the resulting qualitative data, the written essay assessments were scored using a conceptual rubric by multiple observers, using inter-observer reliability to measure agreement in scoring. The results from this phase helped us to structure our interview protocol utilized in Phase III. A small subset of the population was interviewed, allowing us to dig deeper into students' conceptions about tornadoes. This three phase approach allowed us to identify and explore misconceptions concerning tornadoes and other phenomena. Preliminary results from phase I and II show that while students are familiar with tornadoes through popular media, most students do not have a clear understanding of the mechanisms that cause tornadoes to form, and how tornadoes relate to California climate. Areas in which we find the most divergence in student thinking include: the similarities/differences among dust devils, tornadoes, and hurricanes, the role of temperature in wind movement, and the relationship between clouds and fog. By identifying students' misconceptions about tornadoes and other weather phenomena, scientists and educators can create experiences that will help students move toward a more scientific viewpoint.
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