Dealing with Misconception in the Classroom

As individuals we all have our own experiences that have gotten us to where we are in our lives. Lessons gained from in the classroom to interactions with peers outside that classroom that led to teamwork or maybe disputes that needed resolved. All of these experiences at the end of the day leave us with who we are as individuals, each one a piece of ourselves. Then what happens if one of those pieces is built out of a misconception?

Throughout our lives we hear many things and most people are not privy to double checking what they learn through every source they consume. Whether it be a fab magazine or a rumor or word-say of a trusted friend, these lead to misconceptions. Think about something you may have heard that may not be true. Were you ever told how animals abandon their young if they smell like humans or maybe that the sun is on fire or perhaps that one year for humans equals seven in dog years or lastly maybe you have been told humans have only five senses. It is little tidbits like these that humans take for face value without a second thought which leads to misconceptions that as science teachers we will have to clear up for our students.

What can we do as teachers to fight misconceptions?

The first step as teachers is that we will have to discover the misconceptions that students currently hold in their heads. We can do this through demonstrations, debates, or written assessments of what students believe.

Check out the video below and reference how many of these misconceptions you have heard in your lifetime.

Misconceptions about Evolution by Mental Floss

So you may be thinking what can I do in my classroom to dispel misconceptions? For us teachers we have many tools at our disposal to help us understand if students are leaving their misconceptions behind and embracing new information with an open mind free of bias.

Some of these tools are:

  • Teaching in the Margins, allowing students to explore new knowledge on their own might enable them to renounce their own misconceptions
  • MTV activities, by making thinking visible we can see the processes that are occurring in our student’s heads.
  • The 5E method is another great example for tracking students’ progression from old knowledge to new knowledge
  • Debates between students can also be used to dispel those misconceptions through shared ideas
  • Research of case studies is another great way we can keep misconceptions away.
  • Demos that engage students and have them fill out what they think will happen before an activity and then what they learned after doing it.
  • Lastly, creating an exit slip such as what the student thought before, during, and after presented at the end of your lesson or activity to see how students’ thinking developed over the period

The most important thing we have to do as teachers is that not only do we have to get students to challenge their misconceptions, but we have to teach them how to not make anymore misconceptions.

We can achieve this by teaching students:

  • To not rush through materials we want them to have a clear understanding of what is being presented.
  • To double check any fact that they are told, no matter the source. Google is free and in everyone’s pocket.
  • How to find credible sources that back up information along with how important it is to persevere and understand those sources.
  • Use models they can build upon to help them define their misconceptions.
  • Lastly, to only work out one misconception/new fact at a time so as not to accidentally cross information between them.

Hopefully these methods help you in your classrooms get students thinking to challenge their misconceptions and help them in their futures!

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8 Responses to Dealing with Misconception in the Classroom

  1. greveaa says:

    Hey Steven,
    Some credible sources for dispelling misconceptions are research articles, credible news sources such as the New York Times or Washington posts. Any government website is another great resource, but stay away from any websites ending in .com, .net, or .org.

  2. greveaa says:

    Hey Ellie,
    I would say that is a very good question. We can’t look into the heads of our students and see which wires are crossed or what beliefs are rooted in their heads. Honestly I think misconceptions don’t just come from hearsay but also from a limited worldview, so to uncover students’ misconceptions we have to provide experiences that open up their worldview. This means providing them personally with the experience that they work through, work with the information, or we give them demonstrations, videos of documentaries that expands their view. It doesn’t always have to be some big lesson that takes up a huge chunk of your time. You can do facts of the day that sit on the board. Find yourself a misconceptions calendar or video/blog you can pull misconceptions from and put up for students to look at before class or when they’re staring off into space. They don’t even have to all be connected to science and having it on the board for students to read opens it up that you might have a discussion and can fix the misconception in less than five minutes. Say the student walks in and sees on the board that dog’s don’t age seven years for every one human year. They yell something like, “what!? when did that become a thing!?” so then you can explain the more accurate version of aging in dogs. If you’re not putting the information out there for students to interact with then they’ll never grow as students and more importantly individuals.

  3. greveaa says:

    Great question Grace,
    You’re throwing a bit of a curve ball at me in predicting what misconceptions will be popular in however many years. I think one misconception that students will always struggle with is the misconception that people around the world use inches and feet in their science research. They’ll have that conception just because their experience is limited and they’re young so they’ll think the world works the way that they work, from their perspective. So the way to battle misconceptions such as that is just giving them more experiences.

  4. greveaa says:

    Luke,
    That is a really great question, I love it. I think that the best way that I would do this is show the students the video of all the different news stations where they are orchestrated to say the same thing. That way students get the idea that media is orchestrated to fit a narrative and that makes it even more important to seek out truth. Then I would show them how corporations lobby research to fit narratives on things like food and why sometimes something is good for you and sometimes it isn’t to further display how important it is to find one’s own research and to make sure the source is credible.

  5. wahlsc says:

    Anthony,
    You have created an awesome blog! I think you brought forth some very compelling points in your post. I think that misconceptions are very important to consider when conducting lessons with students. I think that it’s important that we are aware of these misconceptions and welcome them in the classroom. We must reconstruct our students’ misconceptions in a way that promotes inquiry and discovery, letting our students learn on their own! What are some credible sources that you feel could help uncover the misconceptions that our students will bring?

  6. brennaem says:

    Anthony!

    Love your blog about addressing the students’ misconceptions. One thing you mentioned that I would like to hear more about is uncovering the misconceptions. I know that this is really important to do so that you know where to start when addressing students’ misconceptions. What are some things you recommend doing to uncover students’ misconceptions?

  7. karlocge says:

    Hi Anthony!
    I really enjoyed your post- I think you provided a ton of practical ideas for how to discover and correct misconceptions. Many of those strategies we have already been doing in class, so I like how you reframed them as a way to tackle misconceptions as well, because they work very well for it. My favorite point that you made was the importance of not rushing through the content and ensuring that students understand it before moving on. This plays into the covering vs uncovering theory in the classroom a lot, and reminds me of the fact that if students do not fully understand something, they will create a way of thinking that feels logical to them that fills in the gaps in their understanding, which often can be a misconception. What is a misconception that you think will be prevalent in your future classroom, and why do you think students might have that misconception?

  8. larsonli says:

    Hi Anthony!
    I enjoyed reading your blog! I really liked how you addressed the pervasiveness of misconceptions in science class, from a variety of sources. That is why I think it is so important to teach students to be scientifically literate and critical of the information they are consuming, which you alluded to in your last section. This is a lesson that will last with them long after they leave our class, so I really appreciated that you hit on that. One question that I have is how would you model to your students the importance of finding credible sources and not being misled by the media in your own life and in your teaching? Potentially finding sources and listing them on your PowerPoints or maybe only using peer-reviewed articles in your assignments?

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