BUSTED!: Addressing Alternate Conceptions in the Science Classroom


TRUE or FALSE: There is a dark side of the moon. Particles found in solids have no motion. Humans evolved from apes.

All of these statements are FALSE. They are all examples of common misconceptions, or alternate conceptions, that can be found in the science classroom.


As science teachers, we will most likely find ourselves confronted with misconceptions about an array of topics and phenomena in our classrooms. Our job is to help our students reframe prior knowledge and create new scaffolding for the student to come to conclusions about the misconception and the new knowledge.

This video examples why we need to work on addressing misconceptions while also providing a particular means to addressing misconceptions. In my own classroom, I want to address misconceptions with a HANDS-ON approach.

Allowing students to actively engage with the misconception, and dedicating time to debunking the science misconception will allow students the opportunity to create meaningful connections between previous knowledge and new material.

How would I address misconceptions in my classroom?

I would begin by probing the students to determine if the students do indeed hold the misconception to be true. This can be done through…

  • This can be done through giving a unit pre-test. 
  • Presenting students with demos and asked to explain the phenomena they are observing. 
  • Having students do MTV strategies, such as Tug-of-War, about the two sides of the “argument” and have them give reasons for the validity of the side they decide.

Once, student misconceptions have been identified, I would then find appropriate resources – demonstrations, experimental stations, online simulations – that would help students to identify how their misconceptions are incorrect through evidence-based learning.

Some Fun Activities to Incorporate Into Your Own Classroom:


Activity 1: Heat only travels upward, it rises.

  • Probe the students by having them discuss in pairs who they believe is correct in the following scenario: 
    • Bailey says that heat always rises because in their house the second floor is always warmer in the winter when they turn on the heat and the basement is freezing. Jaime says that heat doesn’t always rise because when they stand by a campfire they are getting warm. Who is correct? Why?
  • Once the students have discussed in groups what they believe and why have each group share their thoughts and record class reactions on the board. 
  • Next, have the students go through a series of stations used to see that heat does not only rise. 
    • Designed an enclosed system that could have a cold bottom and a warm top. Use thermometers and take time and temperature readings so see where the heat is “going.”
    • Light a flame and use thermometers and personal observation (of course following lab safety) to see where the heat is going.
    • Our Sun and Heat Transfer Lab from University of Colorado Boulder https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_solar_lesson02_activity1 

Activity 2: Black holes are black, the same size, consume everything that comes near them.

  • Probe students to write all of the information they can on separate sticky notes to attach to the white board. 
  • Go through everything the students mentioned in the sticky notes. Put the sticky notes into different categories. Make special note to say that some of these statements may or may not be true. 
  • Students should be divided into groups to complete an internet exploration about their topic. They must present what their topic is and address a misconception they believe could occur. 
  • Once all of the presentations have been completed, as the teacher goes through each and address any problems that may have arisen. If the internet exploration did not result in an explicit reason the misconceptions were incorrect, make sure to make special note to create further labs or demonstrations for the students to work through to view the misconception!

Other blogs to discover more about addressing misconceptions:


  1. Hi Colleen,
    I enjoyed reading your post on misconceptions in science. You provide some great ways to address misconeptions and the examples activities you provided are definitely relevant to addressing student’s understanding of these concepts. When considering your future chemistry classroom, what might be one of the most difficult misconceptions to address with your students and how might you go about helping students come to the correct understanding?

    • Lauren, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post! That is such a great question. I think the misconception that will be one of the most difficult is that “heat is not energy.” I think this would be one of the most difficult because heat and temperature are things that are constantly in students lives and therefore deeply ingrained in their minds. To correct this misunderstanding, I would provide different experiments that would target heat as energy as well as showing different videos that students could interact with, on platforms like EdPuzzle, that would target more of the theoretical understandings of energy and heat.

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