Date of Award

Spring 4-12-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Secondary Education



Committee Chair

Dr. Kimberly Cortes

First Committee Member

Dr. Michelle Head

Second Committee Member

Dr. Carolyn Wallace


Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important topics taught in most high school biology curriculum. These processes emphasize the interrelationship between the abiotic and biotic factors found in our world. The portrayal of these relationships to students is recommended by using crosscutting concepts such as Energy and Matter: flow, cycles, and conservation and Systems and System Models, which are discussed in this study. The conceptual knowledge of photosynthesis and cellular respiration has been studied widely amongst middle, high school, and college students. Before this study, only primary preservice teachers were examined for the conceptual knowledge of these biochemical processes. This dissertation sets out to 1) investigate secondary biology preservice teachers’ application of the cycling of matter within photosynthesis and cellular respiration, 2) discover their conceptual understanding of energy and its flow within the biochemical processes, and 3) examine what key chemistry topics the preservice teachers identify are within the processes. Six participants were asked to describe in detail two application questions about the photosynthesis and cellular respiration and two questions where they were to describe the biochemical processes within a single cell. They were also given 45 pre-determined terms related to the processes to create a concept map. Results of this study coincided with other conceptual studies of different populations. Novel to this study, participants generally had a stronger conceptual understanding of biochemical processes of cellular respiration than photosynthesis. It was also discovered that preservice teachers viewed cellular respiration as its own system while photosynthesis was often viewed as a quasi-system which is incomplete without cellular respiration.