Addressing Alternate Conceptions

Were you ever told that the blood inside your body is blue until it comes in contact with O2? Or have you ever heard someone say that once baby animals are touched by a person their parents will no longer care for them? I have! But I am here to tell you that these are just a few of many COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS a lot of people (and our students, of course) hold.

One thing that is important to keep in mind as educators as we address these misconceptions is although we might know the answer ourselves, but from a student perspective addressing these beliefs is essentially reframing long held world views that can make students feel like:

One thing for certain is that just telling our students they are wrong is not the way to go about constructing a new mental idea for whatever phenomenon they are battling with in their head. We need to probe with intentionality and help lead our students to a newer, deeper understanding.

Let’s take a look at an example…

You can start your class off in an engaging way by showing something like this concept cartoon below. Concept cartoons are a great tool to use in conjunction with putting students in groups and having them have a discussion about it and see what their thoughts are.

Framing a discussion around this prompt would certainly cue teachers in to students current conceptions on this topic. This might be a great engaging way to start one of your chemistry units where you would then go into exploring rust.

Why are addressing Misconceptions important?

  • Fostering life-long learners
  • Gaining new perspectives and new ways of thinking
  • Understanding this world we live on more deeply
  • Taking down the barriers to new knowledge
  • Being able to change opinions/belief systems
  • Learning with intent and more awareness

Yes there are science misconceptions, but there are also many other types of misconceptions that we will run into that is important to think about (examples):

  • Conceptions/misconceptions students hold about teachers
  • Conceptions/misconceptions about school itself
  • Conceptions/misconceptions about other students (race, gender, etc.)

It is also important that we address these types of conceptions like we do with the science misconceptions because both can have an unwanted impact on student learning and the experiences they gain in the classroom.

An idea to practice culturally responsive teaching (when it comes to addressing misconceptions)

When we are addressing students previous and currently held beliefs, it is important that we respect their worldview and approach their misconceptions with ease as we would not want to embarrass or leave anyone feeling disrespected.

As we probe and prompt to assess student’s thinking, we should be thinking about how the topic relates to the current students. For instance, if there are indigenous students in the class, we should incorporate the Indigenous perspective into the conversation to honor various perspectives. This will help students to feel more comfortable and confident to address their thinking.

Other Blogs/ Resources for Misconceptions;



  1. Riley, Great blog post as per usual :)))) I really liked your emphasis on non-science-related misconceptions in the classroom (in regards to teachers, school, etc. that students have)! These are ones that I have not yet thought about, but ones that we will surely encounter one day. How would you address a student’s misconception that is related to their religion or culture?

    • Brooklyn,
      Thank you so much for your feedback! I think addressing a student’s misconception on something like religion or culture would really be context dependent. However, I would make sure to use it as a time to inform or help students perspectives grow in some way.

  2. Riley, I really enjoyed reading your post! Your discussion of why teaching about misconceptions is important for life beyond science teaching is incredible! Sometimes the connection of science teaching to the outside world can get lost and I love the fact that you lay out so many excellent points. I also appreciate your connection to having misconception lessons connected to project based learning. I think could provide students with a very holistic view of a topic and could be incredibly beneficial for learning. For the concept cartoons, do students make those, or are they something that are used in conjunction with a prompt that is given to students? Overall, great post!

    • Colleen,
      Thank you very much for reading my post and commenting on it! I had originally thought about using the concept cartoons in conjunction with a prompt to foster student conversation…but you could totally have students come up with their own and that would also let you in on student’s current conceptions in a fun, creative way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.