Revealing and Dealing with Misconceptions

  • Teachers (especially ones who teach High School) often have to teach students who have pre-instructural knowledge about a topic.
  • This pre-instructural knowledge is not always correct
  • These incorrect understandings are called alternative conceptions or misconceptions
This video addresses many misconceptions that are inevitable in science and why people think these misconceptions are true.

How to Deal with these Misconceptions

We are going to deal with the misconception that “Things float if they are light and sink if they are heavy.”

Identify the Misconceptions

Before misconceptions can be corrected, they must be identified. A way to do this is to develop a pre-assessment to understand the misconceptions your students may have.

For this misconception, the teacher can bring in objects that will either float or sink. They can hold up each object, one at a time and have students write down whether they think the object will sink or float.

Ask Yourself Why Students May have the Misconceptions

It is important to understand why the students think they way they do and possibly where they may have gotten their information from.

In this case, students could possibly have the past experience of throwing rocks into a pond. Rocks typically sink when put into water and are heavy. Students may have assumed that this is the case for all objects.

Explain or Show Why the Misconceptions are Wrong

Present competing theories to students and give them the opportunity to reject or accept the new theories presented

Below is a video of a possible demonstration to do on why certain cans of pop sink and why others float.

Provide Tasks to Students to Show that They Understand the New Theory

Doing this will allow you as a teacher to know if your students understand the new theory and that the students are able to recognize why the past misconception was incorrect.

Something to have students do is work together as a group to theorize and understand why cruise ships that weigh 20,000-60,000 tons float.


  1. Great blog post, Shelby! I really like how you used the misconception that all heavy things sink and all light things float throughout your explanation of how to confront misconceptions in the science classroom. Something else you did that was really interesting was including the bit about the cruise ship in the final part of your post. That’s a good way to get students interested and actually care about changing their incorrect thoughts. Part of conceptual change is getting your students to want/care to change their thinking about the misconception, how do you plan on doing that in your classroom?

    • Hi Anna! Getting students motivated and caring about misconceptions is very important and might be difficult at times. I think the best way to do this is to address misconceptions with fun and creative hands on activities. If students are enjoying what is going on in the classroom, then they will be excited to learn about science and open to changing their previous thinking and ideas.

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