“Tomato/Tomahto, Conception/Conceeption”

What are “Alternate” Conceptions?

“Alternate Conception” is essentially a euphemism for “Misconception.” The necessity of which is tied to the nature of science itself. Modern-day scientific facts should not be fanatically accepted, but instead should be tested against other proposed paradigms and adjusted if need be. This decision to frame what many refer to as “misconceptions” as “alternate conceptions” highlights the ever-challenged realities of the scientific world.

How Should I Address These?

In order to best provide students with the right conditions to abandon alternate conceptions which fail to overthrow the reigning scientific consensus, we must address these alternate conceptions through a lens of reason. If we do so, students will be more likely to accept the overwhelming reasoning behind the “correct” conception. The alternative is if we continue to call misconceptions by their traditional name. This more often leads students — and adults — to double down on their alternate conception, even if sufficient evidence goes against it. Everyone has the desire to be “right”, but if we tell students that they are “wrong,” they may simply refuse to believe that. This often leaves students weighing the options for which adult authority figure to believe, rather than developing their own rational autonomy.

An Example Interaction: Religion vs. Evolution

One of the most common and divisive “Alternate Conceptions” that you’ll come across in a science classroom is the idea of “Science vs. Religion.” Below, I’ve outlined a hypothetical interaction (based on my own personal thoughts on how science and religion intersect) between a student and a teacher regarding if the world was created in 7 days, or 4.5 billion years. Instead of simply disregarding the student’s culture and religion, there can sometimes be instances where religion and science coexist.

Student: Wait, how is the Earth that old? My Sunday school said that it was created in 7 days.

Teacher: There’s a chance that you’re right! However, we have more concrete evidence supporting the idea that the age of the Earth is 4.5 Billion Years Old. When I was a kid, I learned 2 Peter 3:8 which says “…a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day…” when referring to how God experiences time. This helped me to balance my family’s religion with my love for science as now I had a personal explanation: the concept of 7 days could really just be the way that early Christians were able to comprehend creation, but now we are able to see a more well-developed picture.

Alternate Conceptions as a Launchpad

“Alternate Conceptions” are not always a hurdle we must get over in order to teach our students. Instead, we are able to harness this knowledge gradient in order to facilitate curiosity and inquiry-based learning. For example…

If you have students watch this video and then select a topic to investigate, you can provide them with a chance to clarify their own thinking through independent project development. Alternatively, you could provide students with a checklist for each of these misconceptions in order to gather their thoughts/stances on each one.

TLDR…

A deviation from the norm isn’t always bad unless the misguided belief is actually rooted in irrational fanaticism. If we can provide students with an environment that encourages the valuation of evidence, we are able to better prepare students for rational decision-making.

A Bonus…

For those of you who enjoy philosophy… or just It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

WARNING: Light Language


Michael Mischler

Miami University || Class of 2023
College of Education Health and Society || Integrated Science Education Major

This entry was posted in Misc, Misconceptions in Science and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to “Tomato/Tomahto, Conception/Conceeption”

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  2. mischlml says:

    Hi McKenna!
    Thank you so much for the comment you left! You raised some really excellent points, especially with regards to “how” I should introduce students to these misconceptions.

  3. mischlml says:

    Hey Rachel!
    Thank you so much for your comment! In response to the question you posed, I think some of the most common ones relate to the age and shape of the Earth, as well as everything beyond our atmosphere. There are still Flat Earthers, still people who think Earth is only a few thousand years old, and still people who think the moon landing is fake.

  4. mischlml says:

    Hi Nathan!
    Thank you so much for your kind words. In response to the question you posed, I think I would need to rely on the other teachers and administrators at my school. If I tried to butt heads with parents over certain misconceptions, I would certainly need backup.

  5. mischlml says:

    Hi Luke!
    Thank you so much for the comment. In response to your question: I think that if we infuse reason-based decision-making into every aspect of our classroom — not just regarding misconceptions — we can foster an environment where students gravitate towards more reasonable decisions regardless of our level of input.

  6. mill1745 says:

    Hey Michael!

    I really loved your blog and thought that the different colors and graphics added a lot to your post. I especially liked the video about 50 science misconceptions. I know there are thousands, but 50 is definitely a good start for new teachers to be aware of!
    I also loved your idea about having students choose a misconception from the video and investigate it for themselves. However, I do have a concern that students would not do in depth research if they already know the idea is a misconception. I think that challenging students with maybe a question, for example “did the brontosaurus even exist?” instead of telling students it did not right off the bat, might be a better way to catch their attention and get them engaged. I think the video is still a great resource to show the students, but it might be better to show them the reasoning behind their misconceptions after they have done their research. I also think it could be cool to have your class almost recreate the video you posted in the blog, where they use their own research as evidence against the misconception!

    Overall great job!

  7. creedero says:

    Hey Michael!
    I thought your blog was entertaining and cool to see the different approach you took to writing it! I really liked how you included a dialogue between the teacher and student in addressing the creationism vs. evolution debate that is bound to come up at some point in biology. I agree that misconceptions can be used as a launchpad into useful discussion or critical thinking for students and teachers. Since your concentration is in earth science, what are some common misconceptions in that field that students may have by the time they reach high school?

  8. bantznf says:

    Hey Michael!
    Your blog was extremely well-written and entertaining. I learned a lot from reading it. You explained the concept of alternate conceptions very well, and your example of religion vs evolution was very well done. I think that this is a very common issue in Earth science classrooms. One question I have is how would you handle parents who also hold these beliefs and do not want their children to be taught scientifically agreed upon facts?

  9. larsonli says:

    Hi Michael!
    I really liked your blog! I thought that your resources, especially the video with the 5o misconceptions. I think that would be a great idea to use with kids, just to get them thinking about what misconceptions they may have never heard of. I also appreciated how you would have handled the science vs. religion “debate” in a professional way that respects both parties, which also helps to dispel the misconception that science and religion don’t mix at all. You mentioned early on that you would challenge educators to address misconceptions through reason, what’s a practical way you might do that?

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