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Elementary Science

Misconceptions in the Elementary Classroom

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Adah Stock Adah Stock 101510 Points

There are lots of names for the same thing -- misconceptions, alternative conceptions, naive conceptions. Children observe their surroundings and make connections to more complex ideas. For example: A cat sits on top of a chair under the glow of a floor lamp on a cold winter morning. The cat is sitting as close as possible because the bulb produces more heat than the sun coming through a window on a cold day. Misconception: The sun must be closer to the Earth in summer.
There are many of these misconceptions and using Page Keeley's probes we can find out what students think.
My question to all educators is as follows:
How do you as a classroom teacher handle student misconceptions so correct science is understood?
I am attaching a small collection of articles to get the ball rolling.

Kathleen Chachich Kathleen Chachich 2825 Points

This is definitely a point that we must make sure that we take care of misconceptions. I think it is important to find out what students know and think so we can figure out misconceptions. Pre-tests (informal or formal) are good ways to know what students know. I think it is important that educators do not make the students feel stupid or foolish for having misconceptions. We must find a way to make sure that students understand the correct science but not discourage them.

Kimberly Grossman Kimberly Grossman 1050 Points

"How do you as a classroom teacher handle student misconceptions so correct science is understood?" This is a great question that I, myself, have been thinking about. I am a student-teacher this year and am trying to learn how to interact with children. My mentor-teacher loves to have students participate even if they mention misconceptions or answer incorrectly. He views this as an opportunity to acknowledge what misconceptions were made and follows this by starting an interactive class discussion. If a student mentions a misconception during science, then other students may be thinking the same thing. It is vital that this be addressed and not ignored. Students need to know that their thoughts and answers are valued, even if they are incorrect. If I were to strongly ignore a student's incorrect remark or scold them for their incorrect thinking that student may not want to risk sharing his or her thoughts again for fear of being wrong. I would bring a student's misconception up to the class. Also, I would see what other students felt about this. This could be an amazing opportunity for a classroom of children to work together to understand why a particular misconception is a misconception. Students may know more than we think. If we allow students to jump in with their thoughts, then maybe students will come to a conclusion on their own. This obviously depends on the type of misconception. Teachers will need to guide conversations so that it leads students to understanding a misconception. There are so many ways to go about handling misconceptions. I need to think more about this myself. If class discussions aren't the way you would want to go about bringing up a misconception and teaching correct science, maybe a video or actually testing out something could lead to students understanding what is true. Thank you so much for bringing this topic up. Before I finish, I was thinking of misconceptions about how students view scientists. My professor at UMBC, showed us an introductory science lesson in which students draw their own idea of a scientist and what a scientist looks like. Here is a link to instructions on this assignment. When I did this activity on my own I was able to see what stereotypical views I had about scientists. There is an article we had to read for class as well called Scientists Geeks and Nerds by Thomas McDuffie. It was really interesting. Also, I thought that by reading another book that dispels stereotypes or misconceptions about scientists would be helpful. One book is The Kid Who Named Pluto by Marc McCutcheon. The author compiles nine stories about nine young people who made an impact in science. This could show students that they can be scientists as well. I'm sure there will be many other misconceptions besides the view of a scientist, but when these misconceptions occur...teachers should take them on as scientists investigating the truth and students should be encouraged to join in and hlep. The more minds figuring out a misconception the better!

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 35878 Points

This is a very important dialogue about misconceptions. I want to share a resource that I use ALL the time when I want to understand children's thinking about concepts in science.

It is called Making Sense of Secondary Science by Rosalind Driver and two other authors I cannot remember right now. First of all, it is an English book and Secondary refers to elementary age children not high school as I first thought.

I have attached a chapter from the book.

How do others handle misconceptions?



Revital Curtis Revital Curtis 925 Points

Student misconception regarding science is probably something that teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. Today, with so much information published on the internet and media, you never know what children are reading and and where they get their information from. I am actually doing my research paper on it so I will have more information on how to handle this but I want to say that I do agree that teachers should be careful with how they handle misconceptions in the classroom. I feel that especially in science, teachers should encourage students to answer questions even if they are incorrect so that they as teachers can get a sense on how students are thinking that way and try to find why they think this way. I think that a good way to deal with misconceptions is is to first explain to the class about the topic in depth and then if possible, do an activity that allows them to visibly see the experiment. I find that when children touch, see and feel things they tend to remember it better. I know that I sometimes have misconceptions about certain things in science so what I do is research everything that I teach before bringing it to class and also provide this with students. Showing your students that you as a teacher sometimes also make mistakes is a good tool to make students feel comfortable to say what they think without the fear of making a mistake. There is a great article on NSTA called "The Science Beliefs Quiz" (Sorry I couldn't attach it). I found it very helpful with information about this subject so I encourage you to read it. Another point I wanted to raise is that misconceptions are sometimes difficult to detect. This is because if you as the teacher don't teach or discuss a certain topic then you will not know that your students have misconceptions about certain things. room for thought!

Okemeteri Esiekpe Okemeteri Esiekpe 765 Points

Misconceptions lead to learning and teachable moments! As others before me have mentioned, this is not an opportunity to make students feel stupid, as some teachers are wont to do. Instead, when we notice that a student has a misconception, use it to help the student to understand why what they believe is incorrect and how they can find the correct answer.
Students often don't know that what they hold to be true are false or incorrect. In fact, there are adults today who hold lifelong misconceptions that no one corrected when they were younger. They build further knowledge on this false idea! The best way to stop this unstable idea/belief would be to talk to the student about how s/he got his/her false idea. Then, engage them in using various sources (science encyclopedia, books, the Internet, etc) to research the topic so that the student is responsible in clearing up his/her misconception. Just simply telling them that they are wrong is not helpful. Help them understand "correct science" by having them actively involved in getting the right idea.

Taylor Donahue Taylor Donahue 765 Points

I think that many students can go through school never realizing that they have learned something incorrectly. Either by other students giving them information or things their families have told them. Possibly the students have just assumed something to be true and never questioned it before. We as teachers need to find out what our students already know or think they know about our lessons. If they think they understand something they may not pay attention and realize that they are incorrect or have been misinformed. I think that it is important to open class with a discussion or write up about the lesson for the day. A good idea would be to find out some of the common misconceptions students have and open the lesson with them. For example, did you know.... That way students will not feel ashamed to talk about what they are unsure of.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89208 Points

I agree with you, Revital, the journal article about the Science Beliefs Quiz is an excellent one. I have my preservice students take the Science Beliefs Quiz at the beginning of my science methods course each semester. They usually are very appreciative to discover their misconceptions and misunderstandings that are revealed through this online assessment. Thanks for mentioning the article. I have made it assessable above.
Also, I wanted to mention that there is a discussion thread in the physical science forum: physical science misconceptions with gobs more resources to check out.

Helen Hicks Helen Hicks 2635 Points

Thanks Carolyn, I read the Science Beliefs Quiz article about really enjoyed it. I agreed with everything the article had to say about students misconceptions. I liked how the article showed the different questions that would be on the quiz and also activities to do with your students that are related to some major science concepts. Our state has just started second quarter and I teach fifth grade. I will give this belief quiz to my students because it will allow me to see what all my students misconceptions are and if they all have the same ones or if it varies.

Michael Leslie Michael Leslie 2110 Points

Hi all, actually I think sometimes misconceptions can be good for science class. It can be a great tie in to the scientific process. I tell the students that even great scientist make misconceptions and it's not because they are no smart it's just that they did not have enough of the right information. Just like putting a metal butter knife into a pot of boiling water and a wooden knife. Students think that both will be hot to the touch because they are both in contact with boiling water, but after doing and experiment students will find out the answer. So in science misconception can be an open door instead of a closed door.

Rachel Nieto Rachel Nieto 530 Points

I think that it is important to discuss what students already know about a topic before lesson is even done. I do this in many ways. Sometimes I like to have think, pair, share; when the students talk with a partner and share their thoughts, then later with a group and then with the entire class. This gives students time to share what they know in a non threatening way. I will take notes. While the lesson is being taught we can go back to what I recorded and see if what they already knew is correct or not. If it is not we can just cross it off. I tell my students that it is okay cross it out because that is how we learn.

Sherrilyn Sampaia Sherrilyn Sampaia 550 Points

I learned a lot from reading posts on misconceptions. Besides using pretests and KWL charts to see what students know or don't know, students could sort and classify objects as science inquiry. I believe that the best learning experiences draw on prior knowledge and connections to real life. I also agree that using real life situations to hands on test misconceptions and then talk about why students think they are correct will help create a positive environment where everyone feels safe to make mistakes and develop science process skills at the same time.

Heather Powell Heather Powell 1980 Points

This is a very good point to bring up about Misconceptions. All the posts and resources were a great way to see how exactly misconceptions can be made. With only being an intern at the moment, I have not had many interactions in regards to teaching science. I have, though, learned some key points to avoiding misconceptions. First, it's fine if you may not be able to answer a students question. Tell the student that together you all can find information to answer the question, being asked. Never just answer a question, with only guessing at the answer, that is where students misconceptions can begin. Also, it never hurts, when looking at new topics in class, to brush up on what you know about the content. As long as you have the right idea behind what you are teaching, there is no reason your students should be strayed to believe any misconceptions.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 35878 Points

I just read this thread carefully again. I think we need to change the words we use when students do not understand a science concept. I think a better word or words are preconceptions or naive conceptions. When we are beginning our instruction on a concept, students may not have had any prior experiences with the concepts or they have learned information about a concept that is inaccurate.

When this happens we need to provide students with additional learning opportunities so that they might confront their naive conceptions. One learning opportunity may not be enough. They may need multiple experiences before they really understand the concept.

it is important students have opportunities to talk after each learning experience. Talking with other students can help children change their naive conceptions. Talking provides opportunities for clarifying and building on each other ideas. Talking help children think deeply about their ideas and move away from those preconceptions Susan Koba discusses in her book Hard to Teach Concepts for Grades 3-5.


Estephany Javier Estephany Javier 5340 Points

If we want to successfully eliminate or clarify children’s misconceptions, we should definitely consider utilizing the basics of Nature of Science. As per research studies, children are only able to eliminate misconceptions or clarify them when they are able to explore a stronger and more valid concept. Therefore, we can help rectify these misconceptions by allowing them to engage in inquiry activities where they must search for evidence to support their claims. For example, if students believe that an objects mass is a force, it is important that they engage in inquiry activities were they clarify their own misconception. After they’ve gathered their evidence, they can present it to the class either in the physical setting or via an online blog. In this social setting, students can defend their claims or rectify them based on questions or responses from their peers. Overall, this is a great learning experience because it allows students to create more valid and stronger conceptions based on evidence and reasoning rather than a text book or a teacher’s word for it. Personally, I think that misconceptions are a great way to engage students in learning new knowledge because it challenges their thinking and come on, what child is not up for a challenge to prove their point?

Brittany Phillips Brittany Phillips 515 Points

I agree that many students carry misconceptions, especially in science. Assessing our students on their knowledge before teaching the material will give us information on what they already know, or think they may know. Assessment probes are a great way to get to know exactly what your students believe is true. Here is an article on the use of probes but the NSTA website has several that are very useful! Brittany

Though written for middle level teachers this article by Page Keeley is a good one to consider when looking these to uncover student ideas. Guest Editorial: Misunderstanding Misconceptions By: Page Keeley An opinion piece about the different ways teachers view misconceptions.'' target="_blank">' target="_blank"> Here is the beginning of a review about this article - Worth the read too!! [i] Keeley provides insight into what she terms “practitioner misunderstandings” about misconceptions. I love how she addresses the use of misconceptions as a teaching too. “It is important to understand that the word misconception is a general way of lumping together students’ scientifically inaccurate or partially accurate ideas. Once a misconception is identified, teachers should delve further to understand the type of misconception the student holds.” Keeley identifies the misunderstandings as: All misconceptions are… the same; major barriers to learning; only “those” students have them; are a bad thing; must be fixed; come from experiences outside the classroom; identification of misconceptions is formative assessment. It is powerful to understand all misconceptions are not major barriers to learning. Keeley makes and excellent point when she says, “A conceptual misconception warrants greater attention than a trivial factual misconception. When developing assessments that probe for students’ misconceptions, it is important to focus on key conceptual ideas rather than minor facts.” at the misconceptions as students preconceptions. [/i]

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Arlene, Thanks for sharing this article by Page Keeley. The Kansas City School District has just bought a set of her probes for every school in the district. So I shared your posting with the science coordinator for the district to pass on to his teachers. Betty

D B Dionne Octavius 6395 Points

i believe that Alternative conceptions (misconceptions) can really impede learning for several reasons. First, students generally are unaware that the knowledge they have is wrong. Moreover, misconceptions can be very entrenched in student thinking. In addition, new experiences are interpreted through these erroneous understandings, thereby interfering with being able to correctly grasp new information. Also, alternative conceptions (misconceptions) tend to be very resistant to instruction because learning entails replacing or radically reorganizing student knowledge. Hence, conceptual change has to occur for learning to happen. This puts teachers in the very challenging position of needing to bring about significant conceptual change in student knowledge. Generally, ordinary forms of instruction, such as lectures, labs, discovery learning, or simply reading texts, are not very successful at overcoming student misconceptions. For all these reasons, misconceptions can be hard nuts for teachers to crack. However, several instructional strategies have been found to be effective in achieving conceptual change and helping students leave their alternative conceptions behind and learn correct concepts or theories.

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Dionne, You mention the following in your post...."several instructional strategies have been found to be effective in achieving conceptual change and helping students leave their alternative conceptions behind and learn correct concepts or theories.". Could you please share some of these strategies in this forum? I think they could be of great interest to readers. Thank you.

Jessica Lopez Jessica Lopez 2995 Points

"How do you as a classroom teacher handle student misconceptions so correct science is understood?" As a future educator, it is vital for us to correct misconceptions that students have. In order to do this, it is important to first identify what they are. To do this, it is helpful to use an inquiry lesson which first engages the student by activating prior knowledge. Having students write down what they know or think before the new content is presented is a good way to facilitate student discussion. Having students write down their conceptions and misconceptions and sharing it with the classroom can help the teacher correct these misconceptions throughout the lesson while helping the students discover on their own what misconceptions they had about the content.

Yvette Ponzoa Yvette Ponzoa 3455 Points

I definitely feel that gaining an understanding of what students think they know about a topic you are about to teach is a great way of finding out what possible misconceptions might be. A simple oral question and answer session at the beginning of the lesson should be enough. Also, being educated yourself on what common misconceptions about the topic you're teaching might be, and making sure to address those with the class can help. Of course, it's also important to never make a student feel bad for being misinformed.

Alexis Ellison Alexis Ellison 2785 Points

I've really enjoyed reading through the responses on this thread and have bookmarked the resources mentioned to take a look at later. Addressing students preconceptions/misconceptions is something that I worry about as a pre-service teacher. Reading through this thread has given me a lot of ideas about how I could manage science in my classroom in way that would treat students' misconceptions as teaching moments for the whole class. I think it is important to maintain a classroom environment that invites students to be open with their ideas and beliefs so that we are aware of students' preconceptions and/or misconceptions. In a class that maintains an environment accepting and open to all ideas/beliefs, the teacher will be able to address misconceptions as they come up and lead students in inquiry investigations that will provide them with their own tangible evidence to change their ideas.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 35878 Points

Okemeteri Esiekpe said:

Misconceptions lead to learning and teachable moments! As others before me have mentioned, this is not an opportunity to make students feel stupid, as some teachers are wont to do. Instead, when we notice that a student has a misconception, use it to help the student to understand why what they believe is incorrect and how they can find the correct answer.

After finishing read the Guest Editorial that Arlene mentioned, it just clarified some of the thoughts I have had about this subject.

It also has made me think about how I handle different misconceptions in different ways. I think the most important thing is finding out what our students are thinking as we begin our science units so we know what we need to be thinking about as we plan instruction.


Wendy Ruchti Wendy Ruchti 24805 Points

A great site for research on student understanding of a specific science topic is the NSDL Science Literacy Maps. Not only does it have concept mapping of the content, you can find current research on misconceptions/naive conceptions/preconceptions. I find that first starting with an understanding of where your students might be can help plan for those discrepant events that will get students past them. Here is a link to the page. It's great to play around. Also, the AAAS site has assessment questions based on those common misconceptions. You can put together tests made from these....pretty great.

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