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.
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.
For those of you who enjoy philosophy… or just It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
WARNING: Light Language
Miami University || Class of 2023
College of Education Health and Society || Integrated Science Education Major