Believe Me…

Think about the last time someone changed your mind about something. It could be anything: where to go to eat, what movie to watch, your opinion of another person, or how you eat a threeway (don’t twirl your fork). Was it easy? Did you hear the alternative and immediately switch how you thought about something? Probably not. Why is that? Well, according to cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, humans are conditioned to believe that a few basic things:

  • I know more than the guy next to me
  • I want the guy next to me to like me

These two foundations of social order helped us survive and thrive… as hunter-gathers. Today, they pose a great threat to logical reasoning, and this no more evident than in addressing misconceptions inside of the science classroom.

3 Common Misconceptions About Car Insurance

Students come to our classrooms with a wealth of knowledge. However, some of this is wrought with misconceptions-but don’t fear- we can use these to our advantage.

1. You don’t know what you don’t know

Start off with a pretest! It’s impossible to address misconceptions without knowing what they are first. Probing for student understanding before introducing a topic gives you time to prepare lessons that effectively correct these alternative conceptions.

2. PHIG!

When it comes time to introduce the new content, get PHIG(y) with it!

  • Plausible: the new content should be consistent with other knowledge and available evidence. Present the material in a way that can be reasonably accepted, even if not fully retained at first glance.
  • High Quality: while scientific theories are of the highest quality in terms of the interpretation of the data, that doesn’t mean that it is the same for our students. The data should also be of the highest quality from a student perspective, its got to matter to them!
  • Intelligible: the introduction of a topic needs to be within reach of our students’ abilities. This can be difficult to do, especially for the abstract, try using analogies, models, or direct exposures to introduce new content
  • Generative: don’t pigeon hole the content. Science is an interconnected discipline, we should always contextualize the new content and show how it can apply in new and familiar situations.

3. This ain’t a one-man show

It takes multiple exposures for students to fully grasp a concept. The same is true for changing misconceptions. We need to present students with multiple examples of anomalous data, using the 5E learning cycle is the perfect way to present multiple exposures that give students the opportunity to assimilate new knowledge.

4. Practice makes perfect

Once students have begun to incorporate their new knowledge they need ample opportunity to use and apply it. Have students engage in argumentation, defending what they have learned against what they used to know helps cement the content and place it in direct opposition to their prior misconceptions.

5. Respect student culture

Some topics in science can stand at odds with religious and cultural beliefs, and in these cases, students may be unwilling to waiver in these beliefs. I think as a teacher there are a few steps to take:

  • Acknowledge the student’s beliefs and validate their feelings.
  • Recognize that there are other ways that people explain the world and their place in it.
  • Clarify that in the science classroom, we base our understanding of the natural world on collected evidence using the scientific method.
  • Ask that students respect what we discuss in class as a community of scientists, the same way that you have shown respect towards their cultural beliefs.
Conceptual science teaching: concept cartoons & concepTests


  1. Hey Aaron, I really enjoyed reading your post! It was very informative and a good step by step explanation about how to promote conceptual change in the science classroom. I especially liked the PHIG representation about how to introduce new content when confronting a misconception. In your fourth step, you talk about how students need opportunities to apply their new knowledge to through argumentation and other strategies. What would that specific look like in your classroom? Would you carry that out through personal reflective activities, more interactive classroom activities, or something else?

    • Thanks for the reply Anna, some activities that I would use are ones that I’ve pulled from inquiry like C-E-Rs or case studies. Both of these are great ways for students to present and justify their thinking. One way that we do them in Astronomy is we are presented with two student perspectives and then we have to justify whether we agree or disagree with one or the other.

  2. Hi Aaron! I really like how you focused on the mutual respect needed in the science classroom. Sometimes cultural and religious beliefs collide with scientific theories. As you pointed out it is important for us as science teachers to respect the students beliefs. However, you also pointed out that it is important for students to respect science while they are in the classroom. I do not think this is talked about often, but mutual respect important for a good classroom environment.

    • I agree Natalie, but it’s not about expecting students to blindly respect you and your classroom. Students have to know that you are respecting and meeting them where they are.

  3. Hey Aaron! Good job on your post! I especially loved the idea of getting PHIG(y), it really summarized how and why we should introduce new content in a way that can address the misconceptions of students. I also liked that you talked about respecting students’ culture, it is so important to make students feel important in the classroom. What type of activities do you plan on using to let students practice their new knowledge?

    • Thank you Woojin! I alluded to this in another response but one way that is effective is using C-E-Rs. They are a great way to get students to think about and justify their thinking.

  4. Hi Aaron! I love your post! I really like how you acknowledge other students culture and how to deal with scientific misconceptions based on these cultural differences. I also like you you argue that it takes multiply exposures to reshape a student’s misconceptions. Students need these multiple chances to uses these conceptions to reshape them into their schema. But how do you deal with a misconception that a student has that you don’t know about?

    • Thanks for the response Caitlin, it is super important to probe for student misconceptions when starting a new lesson, but you’re right, sometimes you don’t know what those could be. One way you can figure these out is by engaging students in conversation about the topic in general. Instead of asking students specific questions, ask them what they “already know” and see if some emerge then.

  5. Great post Aaron! Lots of original ideas! In particular, I really enjoyed the two foundations that you presented at the beginning. I think that those are very true in almost every classroom in America. I also like how you acknowledged that this process cannot be done with merely one person. By the way, I’ve never had a three-way from Skyline!

    • Mason, I’m here for you in this trying time. When this is all over lets head to Skyline and cut through a some three-ways.

  6. Great post Aaron! I especially liked the PHIG acronym when it comes to introducing new content. This makes it easy to remember and I’ll definitely be using it. I also liked your steps for dealing with students who have different beliefs because of their culture or religion. Would you deal with parents who have addressed concern in the same way?

    • Thanks for the reply Shelby. I would definitely take the same approach to addressing parent concerns. I would also give parents the opportunity to discuss things further and offer any clarifications they might want.

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