Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Helping Students Overcome Their Misconceptions

Last time, I wrote about how a teacher could find misconceptions that his/her students might have when learning science. The next question that someone might have is “What techniques or strategies can teachers use to help their students overcome these misconceptions?” In order to look at this further, it might be a good idea to summarize a few points. The first one would be what a misconception is. Misconceptions are ideas/beliefs that individuals have that are not correct according to scientific knowledge. Some of these ideas may actually be a “step in the right direction along the path of scientific understanding” while others may be very distant from the correct knowledge (Caswell & Percy). We should also understand different ways that misconceptions can form. Misconceptions can form through vocabulary confusion, social experiences, and developmental reasons. Each person interprets or perceives something differently. This, in turn, allows that individual to learn something unique whether it is correct or incorrect.

Finding student misconceptions is only part of the battle. Many times, it is extremely difficult to overcome misconceptions once they are embedded in one’s thoughts and beliefs. Many researchers have found that “’teaching by telling’ or giving students the answers doesn’t usually change the way students think.” As teachers we should want students to “think of science as something to work toward understanding, not just accepting what they are told" (Caswell & Percy).

In order to help students overcome their misconceptions, teachers can use a variety of teaching techniques and strategies. In order for students to recognize or confront the fact that their beliefs may be incorrect, their thinking needs to be stimulated.

One strategy that teachers might be able to utilize would be through the use of analogies. An analogy is a connection between things that are otherwise dissimilar. The article I read brought up a few interesting points to keep in mind. Teachers should “select an appropriate student world analog to assist in explaining the science concept” (Dilber & Duzgun, 2008). This exemplifies that fact that analogies should not be used as the primary foundation for student learning, but they can be used to help enhance what the students are learning. Analogies allow students to compare their real world experiences with new concepts and can increase their motivation to learn. One downfall to using analogies is that students might not be able to separate it from the content being taught/learned, so in some cases, they might not help students overcome their misconceptions.

Teachers can also let students research the topic/concept on their own. This allows the students to see what information is presented on the topic. As more and more evidence supports the correct scientific knowledge (and not their own), students will be able to recognize that what they believe might not be true. Researching permits students to slowly come to the conclusion of what information is correct because they discovered it for themselves. Trade books can also be used to help students overcome their misconceptions. Teachers need to make sure that all of the information is scientifically accurate and up to date before presenting them to the students.

Overall, teachers should remember these three steps when trying to help students overcome their misconceptions:
1. Identify students’ misconceptions.
2. Provide a forum for students to confront their misconceptions.
3. Help students reconstruct and internalize their knowledge, based on scientific models.
(From: Overcoming Misconceptions: Misconceptions as Barriers to Understanding Science)

and might attempt to follow the subsequent methods:
1. Anticipate the most common misconceptions about the material and be alert for others.
2. Revisit common misconceptions as often as you can.
3. Assess the validity of student concepts.
4. Use familiar analogies if appropriate.
5. Apply ideas in situations that can be experienced or tested.
6. Give ample amounts of evidence.
7. Allow students to conduct their own research on a topic/concept.

Resources used:


  1. Great information. This is why teaching is so hard/draining/ frustrating at times! I think a good teacher does a combination of both of the main ideas here, or "all of the above." We have to choose the right way, the right investigation, the right perimeters, the right materials, the right questions, to lead students to their own conclusions. The evidence they find to support their beliefs has to be accurate and repetitive. They have to be interested, too. Thanks, I will read this again, and try to apply all of it.

  2. Nicole,
    It is important we try all of your ideas to help children break any misconceptions they have. Since children all learn in different ways we might not get it right the first time. Like you said it is important we just don't tell the children they have a misconception, but let them learn themselves through research or analogy. The three steps are something I have never thought about before, but are something I will defiantly take with me into my future teaching. Thanks for great ideas!