The Earth is How Old?

It’s four and half billion years old – not 6,000.

The sciences are riddled with a lot of misconceptions that change as we get older, but there’s nothing wrong with misunderstanding a concept or fact due to a lack of information!

What are some common misconceptions students have in the sciences?

Some misconceptions student within the Earth/Life sciences that we still hear today even from adults are:

  • “The Earth is only 6,000 years old.”
  • “Human beings and dinosaurs coexisted.”
  • “Human beings did not evolve from earlier animals.”

Image result for humans and dinosaurs together

Where do they come from?

There everywhere from social media to even being taught in the classroom. You’ll see politicians spouting “It’s so cold outside, it would be nice to have some global warming right about now!” and that misinforms people to conflating weather and climate. You’ll even hear things about the “inaccuracy of carbon dating” as an attempt to discredit any conclusions from using it!

A can of worms to avoid is the obvious one – religion. A lot of misconceptions about the Earth’s age and human development do stem from religious texts and teachings. We need to be respectful of peoples’ beliefs, but let’s look at the emboldened Nature of Science tenant at the end of this blog,  scientists have seen through decades and in some cases centuries of research that there is a strong reason to believe these are the most likely explanations of our natural world.

There is nothing “wrong” with believing that human beings didn’t evolve from other animals – does it really matter in every day, 9-5 life? But, to understand speciation and evolution as a whole in a science classroom, we have to operate under the notion that they did.

How do we deal with them?

Image result for misconceptions

It is important, though, as teachers, that we help students alleviate these misconceptions as we move forward not only for sake of them knowing what’s “right” or what’s “true” but because they can’t synthesize new, compounding material if they cannot understand the basics – #constructivism, right? The best way to do this, I think, is through utilizing the Nature of Science in the context of those misconceptions, the three most critical of which I think are:

  • Science is an attempt to explain natural phenomena.
  • Scientific knowledge, while durable, has a tentative character.
  • Scientific knowledge relies heavily, but not entirely, on observation, experimental evidence, rational arguments and skepticism.

Instead of just telling students (or even adults) that they’re wrong about the misconception they hold and informing them of the right answer, help them understand why scientists have come up with the conclusions they have and why they are so reliable.

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8 Responses to The Earth is How Old?

  1. grantcp says:

    Hey Kate!

    Looking at your question, it makes me think of some of the same things I replied to Bryce with. Incorporating those ideas is something that happens over the long term. I don’t think it’s realistic to spend a unit on NoS at the beginning of the year and have students “get it” forever. I think as me move through content we need to establish the lines of evidence supporting the content. When we talk about cells and cell theory we need to talk about WHY we have these explanations and where they come from and how they’ve changed. Without that, these things don’t hold any weight for students. So if can slowly instill in students what it takes to come up with scientific theory and explanation then these things will stick and they can look at other misconceptions they have on their own with a critical lens.

  2. grantcp says:

    Hey Bryce,

    I think some research articles could actually work well for helping students! I would break it up though with certain groups doing certain parts of the paper and sharing as a class since they can be a little bit verbose and dense. Because something they tend to do is weigh multiple possibilities, and not only look for a “right” one but also eliminate wrong ones. I think something to do in conjunction is actually demonstrations and labs – if we can do something in a lab setting then it helps us be more confident that that thing happens in the real world. Providing observable evidence is important for students to buy in to what you’re telling them! I think it’s a slow process that we can build over the course of a year/semester and shouldn’t be something that we accomplish in a week.

  3. grantcp says:

    Hey Michael,

    I think that’s a really great question. I think that we both agree that the WHY behind these scientific conclusions is more important than the conclusion itself; its what provides it with the weight it has. As to how we can emphasize that “how,” I think we just need to talk more with our students about the scientific process to illustrate just how much evidence, reason, and support these conclusions need. Without that, the scientific explanations are no more robust than any other. Without knowing why we’re confident is made of things from Earth, it would be just as valid to say it’s made of cheese (if that makes sense). I think we miss a lot of the nature/essence of science in our classrooms and incorporating more of that can help.

  4. grantcp says:

    Hi Bailey,
    I think the question you’re asking about how my teachers handled misconception is actually a really interesting one to answer. I think that some teachers never had misconceptions surface in the classroom due to the way they instructed (i.e. lectures -> notes -> test). Those that did, I think, were usually welcoming of them and never tried to make students feel bad or stupid about them – but they did just kind of tell the students the right answer and moved on from it rather than using it as a learning moment which I think is a little sad!

  5. chastebm says:

    Chris, this was a really awesome blog post. Your final quote on the blog really caught my eye. I believe that it is very important that we help explain the misconception rather than just mention to students what the misconceptions are. I also loved the video that you used in your blog. I also liked how you incorporated a section about where the misconceptions come from. How did teachers handle misconceptions in your class and would you handle them the same way? Great post!

  6. seballmd says:

    Chris,

    I really enjoyed your post! In earth sciences especially, misconceptions can appear everywhere. I actually had a student ask me the other day “If it’s 2019, then is the Earth 2,019 years old?” and I had to explain to them about the science behind the aging earth and how it became what it is today. You’re also right about the religion coming into play with science because it can be a very touchy subject for students and their parents. We don’t want to disrespect anyones beliefs, but we also need to teach them the purpose of scientific experiments and models that have benefited our understanding of where the earth came from. How will YOU emphasize the importance of understanding WHY scientists come to these theoretical conclusions.

    Michael

  7. thomasbs says:

    Chris, this is an awesome blog post! I loved how you used Nature of Science to help combat misconceptions, as it’s a great tool to use in the classroom! I also enjoyed the tweet that you used to support your point of how students can develop misconceptions. You mention helping students understand why scientists have come to their conclusions, so how would you go about that? Would you show resources, research papers, etc.? Great post!

  8. yezierkl says:

    Chris, your post is fantastic! I first want to applaud your use evidence for misconceptions. This includes the painting with dinosaurs and the infamous “global warming” tweet. While it is enough to just say that these misconceptions exist, the act of including them in your blog made your argument that much stronger. I think that it is important that you brought up how religious beliefs and scientific evidence can butt heads, because these things will surely be brought up in your classroom. While these topics are extremely difficult to talk about with students who may have been raised otherwise, I like that you include that teachers must respect all opinions, but educate based on scientific evidence. Lastly, your descriptions of scientific knowledge and what accounts for scientific knowledge is crucial to the entire theme of alternate conceptions. While evidence is present for theories, they are constantly changing. How would you discuss your last points in your blog to a high school classroom? Do you think that this would help students to depend more on evidence than other sources for knowledge?

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