How to Address Misconceptions in the Science Classroom

Let’s start by watching this video:

How many of these misconceptions have you have held? Were there any that surprised you? These are all only a small part of the misconceptions that your students may hold as they walk into your class.

Why does it matter?

Addressing misconceptions is important in the science classroom because reading and observing scientific principles will not address nor change the frameworks about science that students bring to the classroom. If they are not addressed, these misconceptions will coexist with their new knowledge, and cause a mishmash of fact and fiction!

So… How do we tackle them?

Step 1: Identify students’ misconceptions

In order to address the misconceptions, you first need to identify what misconceptions the students hold. This can be done easily by asking a question or doing a demonstration that engages the students where they bring up their own misconceptions about the topic. As Duckworth mentioned, we need to “allow students to realize that their ideas are significant” so that they will gain confidence in their ideas and be willing to explore them!

One strategy that you can utilize in the classroom are concept cartoons:

After showing this cartoon to the students, allow students to talk in their groups as they discuss which student they think gave the correct explanation and give their own reasoning as to why they think that. You will be able to determine what type of misconceptions they hold and why it formed.

Step 2: Allow students to confront their misconceptions

Confronting misconceptions can be difficult for both the student and the teacher. Students may feel uncomfortable sharing their misconceptions or be told that they are wrong since misconceptions are often deeply held and largely unexplained.

One tip is to utilize MTV strategies to visualize their thought process without making them feel offended or embarrassed about their misunderstandings. A good way would be to use a chalk talk where students can anonymously state their ideas and ensure that all voices are heard.

Step 3: Let students test their misconceptions

It is important to allow students to test their misconceptions against the real world through raising challenging questions, making their own predictions and experiments. Let them be active learners instead of passive observers of the learning process.

  • Experiments or Labs
  • Demonstrations
  • Student-led investigations
  • Creating concept maps

Here is a video that shows an example of how you can tackle misconceptions about sound through a hands-on activity.

Important Points to Remember:

  • Students have to be given a chance to explore and test their own model of the universe and understand its limits to form a deeper understanding without the misconceptions from their earlier experiences
  • Address misconceptions that are specific to other cultures by researching more about its origin and anticipate them to occur in the classroom!
  • Revisit common misconceptions as it conceptual change does not occur overnight

Here are some blogs that provide a listing of some misconceptions about science and some tools to help address them. Feel free to check them out!

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3 Responses to How to Address Misconceptions in the Science Classroom

  1. leachca2 says:

    Hi Woojin!
    You post is awesome! You have given me a lot of amazing ideas on how to address these misconceptions! I especially like the section on having students confront their misconceptions. This is an important phase because it there when students can begin to reshape their ideas on a concept toward the truth based on their own train of thought. How would you deal with a student who is especially stubborn about their misconception and refuses to see logic?

  2. schmid55 says:

    I really enjoyed how at the beginning of the blog post you addressed the importance of addressing alternative conceptions. I think that you articulated the need very well. I also appreciated step 3 in the process which allows students to test their misconceptions. I think that this is valuable. I think that it is the most rich when students can get their hands on the actual material and be able to manipulate it for themselves. What do you think? Do you prefer demonstrations or experiments?

  3. franczs2 says:

    Hi Woojin! I thought the video at the beginning of your post was very helpful because as I was watching it I realized how many of those misconceptions I held as a child. This really helped me understand how many misconceptions actually occur in science and that it is very typical for students to think them! I also liked the point you addressed about how misconceptions don’t become fixed over night. As a teacher we will have to revisit them. How often will you revisit them? Until the students have mastered them? What if you feel pressured to “stay on track”?

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