Addressing Misconceptions in the Science Classroom

Looking at these above statements, how many do you think are true? Trick question: They’re ALL false! Now, don’t feel bad, a lot people believe these things to be true. After all, some of them are things that we grew up hearing or just make sense in our heads when we look at the world around us. All of these things are something called misconceptions.

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What is a Misconception and How Do They Form?

In science, a misconception is a preconceived notion that a person has about a topic that goes against what is generally accepted by the scientific community.

Misconceptions in science can be obtained in a variety of different ways including:

  • Preconceived notions obtained from observations of the natural world
  • Religious ideas that disagree with scientific evidence
  • An incomplete or flawed understanding of a concept
  • Vernacular misconceptions
  • Factual misconceptions learned from an early age and passed down from generation to generation

This video goes into a little more detail about misconceptions, how they are formed, and how conceptual change can take place.

How Can We Address Misconceptions in the Classroom?

Getting rid of a misconception and replacing it with a new, correct idea can be difficult. Students have believed that misconception to be true for so long, so it’s not going to go away just like that. However, just like the teacher in the video, there are steps that we can take with our own students to facilitate conceptual change.

Understanding Misconceptions | American Federation of Teachers

1.) Figuring out the Misconceptions your Students Hold

You cannot address your students’ misconceptions if you don’t know what they are. You can identify student misconceptions by asking them questions about about a certain topic and why they think that something happens. In our video, the teacher presented the students with the situation of dropping balls with different weights at the same time. In order to figure out her students’ misconceptions she asked questions such as:

  • What do you think will happen?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What experiences did you have that lead you to believe that?

Most importantly, when the student was done explaining her thought, the teacher lead a hands-on activity in figuring out what would actually happen and why?

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2.) Allow Students to Come to Their Own Conclusion Through Hands-On Activities

Let’s kick it back to our girl Duckworth for a minute. The best way for students to realize that their misconception is false is by constructing their own knowledge through hands-on activities and experimentation.

Here’s an example of using hands-on activities to explore a misconception! In this video, the activity is “teacher lead”, but inquiry based learning developed by the students can be even more effective!

While exploring misconceptions in your classroom, there’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be mindful of students’ backgrounds and beliefs.
  • Telling students they are wrong will not be effective.
  • Conceptual change will not take place if students do not want/see a need for their view to change.
  • Addressing misconceptions is extremely important in science and should not be ignored!!
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10 Responses to Addressing Misconceptions in the Science Classroom

  1. pagear2 says:

    Hi Emma! I would address misconceptions that could not be addressed in a hands on way by having students participate in research based activities that allow them to create their own knowledge, which can later by supported by me. I could also address these kinds of misconceptions by supporting my explanation about why the misconception is wrong with multiple examples and visual representations and also allow students the chance to apply that new knowledge in some way after being introduced.

  2. pagear2 says:

    Thanks for your question, Aaron. I would probe for misconceptions in my classroom in a few ways. Firstly, I could probe by giving something as simple as a pre-test in order to directly assess what misconceptions my students hold. Furthermore, I could probe for misconceptions by simply having a class conversation stemming from the engage part of my learning cycle. Either way, this would allow be to observe the misconceptions my students have about a particular topic so I know what I need to address in class.

  3. pagear2 says:

    Hey Natalie, with the exception of “fish blink”, I have believed all of those conceptions at some point. I realize that sometimes misconceptions can’t be addressed in a hands on manner. In that case, I think that it would be helpful for students to do some sort of inquiry based activity, such as a research project where they are able to construct their own knowledge. Also, providing many examples to go along with my explanation about why the misconception is incorrect and why the new information is right would be a helpful way to address the misconception as well as providing students with new opportunities to apply their new knowledge afterwards.

  4. pagear2 says:

    Hey Shelby! I actually cannot say that any of my teachers ever addressed misconceptions in the classroom, let alone through hands on activities (at least that I remember). Although I had a wonderful chemistry teacher in high school, I didn’t realize how many misconceptions I had about chemistry until I got until to college. I think that had my high school teacher taken the time to get to know what misconceptions we had about chemistry and addressed them, I would be a much better chemistry student now.

  5. pagear2 says:

    Hey Caitlin, thanks for the question. I know that as a teacher, I need to be mindful of my students’ beliefs and realize that admitting you’re wrong and changing that belief is difficult. For a student who is defensive about a misconception that is from a cultural or religious belief, I would address that by telling the student that their beliefs are valid outside of the classroom, but in the classroom what I am teaching is what is supported by the scientific community and is what we believe to be true. However, if the student is simply being defensive about a different kind of misconception, I would address that by facilitating hands on experiences and activities that allow for the student to see that their misconception is false and they can no longer deny it.

  6. simpsoem says:

    Hi Anna! First of all, I love how you laid out your post. It is very appealing to the eye and organized very well! My question for you is how would you address misconceptions that you are unable to do a hands on activity around?

  7. turner69 says:

    I haven’t seen a Veritassium video in a while, that was a blast from the past! This was a great blog post, it would be super helpful for anyone trying to have a better understanding of uncovering misconceptions in the classroom. What ways will you probe for student misconceptions in your own classroom?

  8. musolfnj says:

    Hi Anna! I like how you started out your blog with some common misconceptions. I have at some point believed some of those. Have you? I agree with you that one of the best ways to overcome misconceptions is to have students work with it in a hands on activity. How would you address a misconception that could not be demonstrated in a hands on manner?

  9. franczs2 says:

    Great post Anna! I also agree that the best way for a student to understand why their original thought or misconception is wrong is by doing hands on activities. I remember my chemistry teacher addressing misconceptions with hands on activities and labs. Did your teachers do the same?

  10. leachca2 says:

    Hi Anna! I really loved your post! I also really liked your video! Its true that misconceptions take a lot of time to sink and become part of the students new concept of the world! I also like you how point out that simply telling students they are wrong is an ineffective model to address misconceptions. This can lead to the student becoming defensive. How would you deal with a defensive student who is trying to protect their misconception?

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