A Note to the Teacher: Addressing Alternate Conceptions in Science Teaching

So what are alternate conceptions in science teaching? Well, these are MISCONCEPTIONS that our students bring into the classroom based on their prior knowledge. It is our duty as educators to address these misconceptions in a respectful, but knowledgeable manner. Here are some common misconceptions in a science classroom…

Toilets flush in opposite directions depending on which side of the equator you find yourself on.



This idea is attributed to the Coriolis Effect and how large bodies of water rotate in different directions based on whether they are located in the northern or southern hemisphere. For example, hurricanes rotate in different directions based on which side of the equator they occur on. The direction that a toilet flushes depends solely on how it was manufactured. Students who may have previously lived in another hemisphere may have this misconception. The below video is a great tool to utilize in your classroom that helps students who have this misconception understand why it is a myth:

Does Water Swirl the Other Way in the Southern Hemisphere?

Bulls become angry when they see the color red.



This misconception is one that can stem from a student’s culture. For example, a student with Spanish heritage may have the misconception that bulls become angry when they see the color red or that the color itself can spark aggression due to their previous experiences with Spanish-style bullfighting. When addressing this misconception, it is vital that we teach students that it is the movement of the cape and not the color of the cape that provokes the bull. FUN FACT: bulls are red-green colorblind, so they would have a hard time distinguishing the color of the cape in the first place!

The north star is the brightest star in the night sky.



Many students may have this misconception. The north star, also known as Polaris, is NOT the brightest star in the sky. In fact, it is the 49th brightest star observed. This misconception is a common one specifically for students of Native American heritage who have previously learned about stars and constellations from their ancestors. The brightest star observed at night would be Sirius. To address this misconception in a science classroom, I would encourage students to step outside at nighttime and just look up at the stars, or I would have students access the following website: https://skyandtelescope.org/interactive-sky-chart/.

Links to Other Blogs That Help Address Student Misconceptions:

  • https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/are-you-smarter-than-a-middle-schooler-new-site-tracks-science-misconceptions/
  • https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/7/25-1
  • https://spark.iop.org/misconceptions-blogs#gref


  1. Hi Brooklyn
    I found your post on misconceptions to be insightful and useful for practicing and future science teachers! The examples you provided are quite common misconceptions and they will definitely appear again and again in the classroom. Since there are some many misconceptions in science, how might you go about determining which misconceptions you need to address more in depth with your students?

    • Hi Lauren! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I appreciate it! Yes, there are going to be many MANY misconceptions we come across from our students as science teachers. I might go about determining which misconceptions I need to address more in-depth with my students by surveying with a quick exit slip at the end of class. For example, if one student brings up a misconception during a lesson, at the end of class I would ask all students to write down their thoughts about that misconception of a piece of scrap paper and turn it into me. I would then review the reflections and if a decent enough portion of the class has this same misconception (>%33) I would address it in depth the next day. If only a few students had the same misconception I would ask to meet with them briefly either at the beginning or end of the next class. I believe this is the most efficient way to address a large number of misconceptions in the classroom!

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