Pssst!! We Didn’t Evolve From Apes!!

What are Scientific Misconceptions?

A scientific misconception is defined as a false or incorrect understanding of a scientific concept or principle, where a semi-truth or falsehood is perpetuated as scientific fact

Scientific misconceptions can also refer to preconceived notions based on religious and/or cultural influences

What Are Some Common Scientific Misconceptions?

  • The earth is closer to the sun in the summer and further from the sun in the winter
    • The tilt of the earth’s axis impacts the amount of direct sunlight on each hemisphere of the earth, causing summer and winter
Image depicting the seasons. More direct sunlight causes summer.
  • The blood in our veins is blue
    • The blood in our veins is deoxygenated so it is darker in color than the blood in our arteries. The blood is still red! It appears blue due to the way the light is reflected
Image that depicts an explanation for why our veins appear blue. White light shines on our skin, all colors are absorbed by the skin and blood except blue, which reflects back. This makes our veins appear blue.
  • Leaving the door open let’s the cold air in
    • What actually happens is the heat in the air inside is being transferred to the colder air outside
Image depicting heat transfer. The heat goes from warmer objects to colder objects until both objects are the same temperature.

How Can We Address Scientific Misconceptions in the Classroom?

Addressing misconceptions can be tricky, especially when they are based on religious or cultural influences.

A good first step is talking about scientific knowledge as tools in a toolbox. We do not want to make students feel like their cultural or religious knowledge is wrong. It is simply another tool in their toolbox for understanding the world. We do want to encourage students to utilize their scientific thinking tools when in science class!

Now that you’ve discussed the toolbox, you can move on to addressing scientific misconceptions! The video below is a great introduction to the subject!

This video is an introduction on how to address misconceptions in science class.

To summarize the video:

  1. The first step is to ask the students what they think about a topic, and their reasoning for thinking that way
    • How can you address a misconception that you don’t know a student holds?
  2. Introduce the concept and explain the correct way
    • Be sure to use familiar language so the students understand!
  3. Allow the students to explore the new concept themselves
    • Changing misconceptions does not happen overnight!
  4. Encourage students to apply new concepts to the world around them
    • When students apply their knowledge, it helps solidify it!

Here’s an Example

In Biology class, students have a lot of misconceptions about evolution. A lot of misconceptions are perpetuated by this image:

Image known as the March of Progress depicts six individuals walking in a line. The leftmost individual is a monkey walking low to the ground. The other individuals walk more and more upright and have less hair. The final individual on the right walks upright and is a human man.

I’m sure we have all seen this image before. There are two misconceptions perpetuated by this image. The first is that evolution is linear, with one species evolving from another species. The second is that evolution is a process that works towards an ideal end goal.

Video addressing some misconceptions about evolution.

Evolution does not work in a straight line! A good way to help students uncover this knowledge is by asking them questions like “If we evolved from chimps, why are chimps still around?” You can also show students a more correct depiction of evolutionary relationships: a cladogram or phylogenetic tree!

Image depicting a phylogenetic tree of human evolutionary history. Including the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees

Evolution does not have an agenda! Sponges, for example, have happily remained more or less the same for the past 600 million years! That is because they are well adapted for their environment! Evolution is not pushing for perfection, it is guided by natural selection to ensure species are adapted for their environments!

In Summary

Students come to science class with misconceptions

Science teachers should encourage students to explore new topics and add more tools to their toolboxes

It is best for students to uncover new knowledge to replace misconceptions

Remember that misconceptions do not change in a day! Be sure to support your students and provide evidence to help them puzzle through new information!


  1. Hey Audrey! Great Post! I think misconceptions are very important to discuss in the classroom. I love the strategies you have discussed as well. How can we discern between a misconception and just a student misunderstanding the material? Is there ways we can honor the students heritage/religious beliefs but also discuss their misconceptions?

  2. Hi. The structure of this blog post is done exceptionally well! You used many different diagrams to display your concept of misconceptions in a digestible way. Perhaps you could add some more examples of class lessons and resources. Great job!

  3. Hi Audrey! I really like the way you structured this post. It’s divided into clear sections and has a good flow. I think it was a great idea to include graphics of the misconceptions you discussed because it helps to grab the readers attention. There are so many common misconceptions about evolution so I think it was awesome that you chose this topic to do sort of a deep dive on within the post!

    • Hi Hannah! Thank you for your comment. I chose evolution because it is my favorite and I agree that there are a lot of misconceptions!

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