Microbiology misconceptions in
M.Fenton, C.D. Fenton
& A. Raynes.
Nexus Research Group, New Plymouth Boys'
High School, New Plymouth, NEW ZEALAND
(presented at the 2001 New
Zealand Microbiological Society (NZMS) conference in Wellington,
The Royal Society
expressed particular interest in this paper, presenting our findings to
the Ministry of Education)
The standard and type of
questions asked in School Certificate examination papers is a fair
reflection of the perceptions and understanding most teachers have
about Microbiology. This is of concern because misconceptions are
easily perpetuated when teachers use past examination scripts and model
answers to prepare their students for future assessments. However, the
new National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) will replace
School Certificate in 2002.
A survey of secondary
schools in Taranaki and other regions in the North Island was carried
out by means of a questionnaire. We were interested in determining how
schools routinely obtain, use and dispose of cultures, how many staff
possess expert or specialist knowledge in Microbiology, and what
resources could be produced for schools.
The findings highlight the
need and opportunity to produce relevant, concise and accurate resource
material for the NCEA.
A survey of secondary
schools in the North Island was carried out by means of a
questionnaire. The questionnaire1 was designed to examine the current
teaching practices in High Schools and the needs of science teachers
involved with teaching Microbiology.
Most of the survey forms
were sent out to High Schools within four regions of the North Island:
Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki and the Manawatu.
The forms were created and
later analysed on a Pentium 166 computer running Microsoft Windows 95
using Microsoft Office 4.3 Professional. Individual schools were not
identified or singled out for analysis but the responses were pooled
for analysis as a whole.
Schools identified by region
Table 1: Percentage of Schools
That Do Not Meet Safety Guidelines5
subculture isolates from environmental samples (surface swabs, etc)
onto fresh agar
||"Only named and
identified species from a reliable source should be used. Teachers or
students should never culture unknown species, especially bacteria."
testing is carried out using unknown organisms on agar
hazards to students by using a safer alternative if one exists"
disposal: - rubbish bins or bags, bleach for short periods, dishwasher,
microbiological cultures must be sterilised before disposal", e.g., 10%
bleach for 72 hours.
The majority of science
staff in High Schools regard themselves as having an "adequate to
strong" understanding of microbiology. However, the survey shows that
basic microbiological techniques and procedures such as microscope
work, staining, identification on agar plates and decontamination are
either poorly done or not done at all.
Most staff appear to
misinterpret the suggested learning experiences outlined in the Science
Curriculum document2. School Certificate examination papers3
contain flawed context-based questions. These papers and their model
answers are being used to prepare students for the NCEA.
All schools have asked for
resource material such as a CD-ROM4, video clips,
photographs and a source of "safe" cultures to work with. The findings
highlight the need and opportunity to produce relevant, concise and
accurate resource material for the NCEA.
1) Most High School
science students only experience of Microbiology is during a three or
four week period in Form Five (Year 11).
2) Many High Schools do
not meet the guidelines5 for safe handling and disposal of
3) The accuracy and
quality of assessment tasks, including examination questions, must be
4) The formation of a New
Zealand Microbiological Society special interest group (SIG) focusing
on Microbiology in schools could provide solutions to those involved
with the secondary sector.
5) The Nexus Research
Group requires support to continue its investigations and production of
1) Nexus Research Group
2) Science in the New
Zealand Curriculum. 1993. Learning Media Ltd, Ministry of Education.
3) School Certificate
Science examination. 1998 and 1999.
4) Microbiology CDROM.
2001. Nexus Research Group.
5) Safety and Technology
Guidelines. 1997. Learning Media Ltd, Ministry of Education.
We would like to acknowledge
Tobias Montagna-Hay for his assistance with data entry and analysis.
Ryan Hill, Jared Broad and Nick Sarten assisted with the production of
the multimedia CD-ROM.
We are grateful to the New
Zealand Microbiological Society for assisting Year 9 (Form Three)
Tobias Montagna-Hay & Year 12 (Form Six) Jared Broad attend the
2001 NZMS conference in Wellington.