Challenge Your Misconceptions

You are probably wrong (and that’s ok)

Everyone holds some misconceptions. There is so much misinformation out there that it is inevitable. I know that not everything I “know” is accurate. I regularly find out that I’m wrong about something I believed to be true, and I’m sure you do too on occasion. That’s ok. In fact, its part of being human. Most of us….are towering mountains of ignorance

The trick is really in how you drop those misconceptions and learn. Actually, that’s where science comes in.

The learning process starts with ignorance

As science teachers and scientists, our job is to find a problem or an important question and try to answer it. Then we need to share that new knowledge with others. Sometimes we are teaching someone something new, some bit of information they didn’t know before, but sometimes it can be a bit harder. Some students come into the classroom with misconceptions about the world like, “Doesn’t salt make water boil faster?” or “Dogs don’t sweat.” These are easy misconceptions to correct as they aren’t typically strongly held, but there are many very common misconceptions that students may hold very deeply. It’s important to be very careful not to alienate the student or insult their intelligence.

How do you correct misconceptions?

These are some options recommended by NSTA for correcting a student’s misconceptions

  • Determine children’s alternate conceptions by asking inquiry-type questions. For instance, What causes this? What is the reason for that?
  • Let children engage in self-clarification of their own views. Ask them to elaborate. This will allow the teacher to learn more about children’s language and their perceptions of natural phenomena.
  • Use discrepant events to eliminate learners’ naive theories and to promote critical thinking. Give children an opportunity to debate the pros and cons of an event, an activity, or an experiment with each other and with you. This will alert them to the notion that what may seem so obvious may have no scientific basis.
  • Make sure the new concept is applicable and relevant. Relate the new concept to a real-life situation, if possible.
  • Explain the new concept correctly and scientifically. To prevent further propagation of misconceptions in science, a teacher must do his or her best to avoid giving confusing, ambiguous, or incorrect explanations.
  • Offer to research with students any of their questions that you can’t answer. Make sure you follow up with a discussion of the answer you find.
National Science Teachers Association – NSTA, & Abdi, S. W. (2005, December 16). Correcting Student Misconceptions. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from https://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=51397

I personally believe that the advice from the NSTA is excellent. Ignorance is not a nail, it cant be solved with a hammer. We need to work WITH students to correct their misconceptions. We will only reach them effectively by taking a considerate approach that doesn’t make them feel dumb for not knowing the facts, but instead makes them want to learn more and challenge their beliefs.

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2 Responses to Challenge Your Misconceptions

  1. murraypk says:

    Claire,
    Thanks for your feedback! I think keeping things as simple as possible while still giving the important details has the best chance to really inform students. You’re absolutely right in that it’s very easy to resort to complicated explanations when a simpler explanation might do the trick. It doesn’t do any good to confuse the students unnecessarily. I think that may actually lead to misconceptions being formed.

  2. creighcl says:

    Peter,
    I really liked your specific reminder about not using ambiguous or confusing explanations when trying to dispel misconceptions in students. I think it is too easy to resort to lengthy, complicated scientific explanations of phenomenons that are explained in research articles or scientific journals. We have to remember that our students are learning the majority of their science knowledge as we teach them so our explanations cannot go beyond their scientific vocabulary or understanding if we have any hope of actually dispelling the misconceptions. Great job!

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