What are Misconceptions?
Did you ever think it would take seven years for your stomach to digest swallowed gum? Or that lightning never strikes the same place twice? And, that the seasons are caused by the Earth’s distance from the Sun? Not to worry, these types of misconceptions are not unusual and, in many ways, are a normal part of the learning process. Every student comes into the classroom with pre-instructional knowledge; however, when this knowledge is inaccurate, illogical, or flawed, it is known as alternative conceptions or misconceptions (Lucariello & Naff, 2010). Misconceptions in science are especially common because many concepts are abstract, complex, theoretical, and difficult to fully comprehend. So, how do students develop misconceptions, how do teachers address misconceptions, and why do teachers need to know about misconceptions?
How do Students Develop Misconceptions?
The preconceptions and ideas students have about various topics and concepts were informed by their own everyday experiences, observations, or learned through other contexts. Some of the most common sources of misconceptions include:
- Preconceived notions
- Non-scientific beliefs
- Conceptual misunderstanding
- Language or vocabulary misunderstandings
- Factual misconceptions
How to Address Misconceptions with Your Students
1) Identify potential misconceptions: Teachers need to be aware of common misconceptions related to the specific topics, concepts, and ideas being taught so they can be prepared to address these misconceptions. Strategies for uncovering misconceptions are based on accessing student preconceptions and background knowledge through
- Formative assessment probes
- Interactive discussion and open exchange and debate of ideas
- Demonstrations and discrepant events
- Written responses, drawings, etc.
Here’s a few common misconceptions related to earth science and chemistry:
- Mountains are created rapidly.
- Seasons are caused by the Earth’s distance from the Sun.
- Earth’s gravitational attraction is drastically reduced on mountaintops.
- Heat only travels upward, it rises.
- Gases are not matter because most are invisible.
- Pressure and force are synonymous.
For more commonly held misconceptions, check out this video by Mental Floss:
2) Provide students with opportunities to confront their misconceptions
- Presenting new concepts or theories as plausible, high quality, intelligible, and generative (Lucariello & Naff, 2010)
- Presenting anomalous data and refutational texts
- Predict-Observe-Explain exercises
- The 5E Learning Cycle
- Make Thinking Visible (MTV) strategies
- Claim-Evidence-Reasoning activities
- Inquiry projects/activities
- Case studies
3) Guide students in reconstructing their knowledge based on a scientific framework
- Bridging analogies: bridge correct beliefs to the new concept/theory through a series of intermediate similar or analogous examples (Lucariello & Naff, 2010)
- Model-based reasoning: utilize representations and model to visualize new ways of thinking (Lucariello & Naff, 2010)
- Assess and reassess student conceptualizations of content
- Conceptual change discussions
- Concept maps and graphic organizers
- MTV strategies for synthesizing and organizing ideas (e.g., I used to think…now I think)
Why do Teachers Need to be Aware of Student Misconceptions?
- Misconceptions interfere with the correct understanding of new information because learning relies on and is associated with student background knowledge (Lucariello & Naff, 2010).
- Misconceptions can be strongly held, and students may be reluctant or resistant to accepting new information, which can make the learning process difficult (Lucariello & Naff, 2010).
- Addressing misconceptions develops critical thinking skills that students can apply to instances and information outside of the classroom.
- Students who have the skills to evaluate misconceptions will be prepared for lifelong learning and have the competencies needed to make informed decisions for the future of our society.
Other blogs with additional information on addressing misconceptions:
Lucariello, J. & Naff, D. (2010). How Do I Get My Students Over Their Alternative Conceptions (Misconceptions) for Learning? American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/education/k12/misconceptions