Headache or Hiccup: Science Misconceptions

What are alternate conceptions of science? How do they affect students and teachers alike in science classrooms? Let’s take a deeper look and examine an in-depth example: 

The definition of alternate conceptions is “the ideas which children and adults use to explain various scientific concepts which do not match with the generally accepted scientific explanation of those concepts” ( Aga Khan University, 2021). 

So what is one BIG alternative concept that some students may bring to the classroom? Today we will be using the misconception of the Earth being flat.

You may be thinking that the idea of the Earth being flat has faded out over time due to scientific discoveries, but this is unfortunately not the case. 

  • “ a recent YouGov poll found that only around two-thirds of Americans aged between 18 and 24 believe that the Earth is round” (University of Melbourne, 2019). 
  • Social media has played a big role in spreading the story of a flat Earth. 
  • Many people have begun to mistrust mainstream sources of scientific information. 

If this misconception could affect my students, what’s the best way to inform them in a respectful and non-demeaning way?

Help them understand the forces of gravity and its effect on Earth:

  1. Materials: 
  • Playdough or mouldable clay. 
  1. Ask students how gravity affects the Earth and everything on it. Students should note that gravity is pulling them down and everything around them. 
  2. Ask students if gravity affects ALL of the earth. They should note that everyone on the planet is held down by gravity. 

Students should then watch this video: https://www.pbs.org/video/gravity-m3swlv/

4. Have students represent gravity’s effect on Earth by applying pressure around ALL sides of the Playdough evenly. This should create a round ball in their hands.

5. Prompt the students: If the Playdough was smashed into a flat surface, would our definition of gravity from earlier still apply? Students should identify that the flat model of the Earth defies their idea of gravity from before because only the two flat surfaces are being affected, not the sides. 

While this activity is a small example of how we can address alternate conceptions, there are many ways to respectfully correct misconceptions. It is important to keep in mind: 

  1. Students may have learned these misconceptions from parents, religion, and community socialization. 
  2. DO NOT attempt to “prove the student wrong.” You can easily redirect their ideas to be based on scientific facts while still acknowledging their connection to the content. 
  3. You can show students that both their original ideas and scientific ones can coexist and work together. 

Thank you for reading, and hopefully this blog has sparked some WONDERFUL ideas on how to respectfully address science misconceptions. Below you can find my Twitter!


  1. Hi Katie, this is an excellent post! I really liked that you included a practical example for exploring a specific misconception in a classroom. I also think the meme you included highlights the best practice when it comes to alternate conceptions, which is to support student identities and provide them with the scientific tools to make conclusions about their misconceptions. I also really liked that you said the point of correcting misconceptions is not to prove students wrong, because that can just lead to conflict and a lack of trust between students and the teacher!

    • Hi. Thank you so much for your comment and praise. I really wanted this blog to focus on student identities and relationship-building in the classroom. This should be the first step to teaching your student.

  2. I loved the video you provided, I thought it was an engaging and cute way to talk about misconceptions and how students come up with them. Also I always look forward to the memes on your posts, this one did not disappoint. Thank you for including an activity that sounds like it will be very easy to replicate!

    • Thank you so much! I feel like memes are a great way to catch the reader’s attention while keeping them engaged. Memes are also a great way to add humor to any post to lighten the mood!

  3. Hi Katie! I like that you started the post off with a question because it gets the readers attention and gets them thinking. The idea of the earth being flat versus round is very common amongst middle and high school students so this was a great alternate conception to discuss. I really liked the playdough analogy and I think it’s an activity that would work well in class when addressing this misconception. It allows students to see a physical representation of what you discussed earlier in the post regarding gravity.

    • Thank you so much! I wanted to address the flat Earth misconception because it is widely observed on social media. I also think that the playdough activity would actively engage students!

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