Missing That Conception

“You know, Mr. Thomas, I heard that toilets flush backwards in Australia. Why is that?”Image result for misconception

What is a Misconception?

In science, misconceptions are when background knowledge that the students have are wrong or inaccurate. This can prove problematic when you’re trying to teach about the circulatory system and your students keep asking why blood is blue on the inside.

How do you Address Them?

Here is an example of a very common misconception about the seasons that will help us in learning how to address misconceptions:

Seasons are caused by the distance Earth is from the sun!

Here is a common figure used to describe the path Earth takes around the sun:

Image result for earths orbit

The purpose of the image is generally to describe the perihelion (when the Earth is at its closest distance to the Sun) and the aphelion (when the Earth is at its furthest distance from the Sun). While this figure does that well, what it does cause is the misconception of what Earth’s orbit actually looks like, which is more along the lines of this image:

Image result for earths orbit

Once you know where the misconception stems from, fixing them is your next step.

Option 1: Remove the Problem

By removing the issue that causes the misconception (the first image), you remove the presence of the background knowledge that was doing harm.

Option 2: Resources!

Students can sometimes be a little stubborn with what they believe to be true, so it is always handy to have resources at your disposal when trying to fight a misconception. Here is a video that explains Earth’s orbit:

Option 3 (This one really isn’t an option): Foster a Safe Environment

In order for students to come forward with their misconceptions, they have to feel safe in the classroom to express what they’re thinking. If they don’t feel safe, they may just fail silently, not actually listening to what you’re telling them.

Students who offer their misconceptions are able to get more learning out of the lesson rather than just sitting in the back thinking to themselves, “Gee, what Mr. Thomas is saying about the Earth just doesn’t make any sense!” 


  1. Hey Bryce,

    Great post! OOF the misconception about the seasons is so pervasive – a lot of the ones in Earth Science are. As Katie and Kate both said, I think your third point on making students feel comfortable is crucial not only for confront misconceptions but also to provide a good education in general. If we can’t make students feel at home then they can’t learn to their best capabilities (Maslow?). One of the best things we can to help clear up some misconceptions is to provide students with resources, just like you mentioned. What do you think are some resources to provide students that don’t just tell them what the right answer is?


  2. Bryce, this is spot on! I am so glad that you included the idea that misconceptions are often developed by incorrect representations–such as the revolution diagram. We have to be so careful about what we use in our classrooms, as well as be aware of what is shown outside of our reaches. I was honestly a bit surprised by your third option for how to combat misconceptions. At first, it seemed to not fit in with the rest of your points on your blog. After some thought, I have come to realize that your third point may actually be the most important to student success. Why on earth would a student want to learn in a class where he or she doesn’t feel welcome or safe? Why would a student listen to what a teacher is saying when he or she doesn’t trust the teacher in general? I am super impressed at your wide range of thought processes within this blog. How would you show your students that all thoughts and ideas are welcome by your and your classroom?

    • Thank you Kate! To answer your question, I would make it perfectly clear on day one of class that science is an ever-changing subject, and as such we too must be ever-changing with our understanding of how the universe operates. This means that sometimes we will be wrong, but that is just a part of the learning process! Hopefully by assuring students that there is nothing wrong with being wrong, students will be more likely to put forward their misconceptions!

  3. Bryce,
    First of all, I really enjoyed reading your blog! I liked how you started it with a question that a student might have about a misconception. This blog is interesting to me because I used to believe this misconception myself! My absolute FAVORITE thing about this blog is your option 3. Students should always feel safe to ask questions and not be afraid to be wrong. How would you go about handling a situation of the student still not believing you after using all three of these options?
    Again, great blog!!

    • Thank you Katie! If after going through all three options, I would take action and actually show them, if possible, why their misconception is just that – a misconception. If that were not possible, I would try to delve a little deeper on the resources that I would offer, maybe pointing them in the direction of things like primary sources (scientists who study the phenomena that the misconception is based on), natural history museums, and other things of that nature.

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