Sunday, November 14, 2010

Misconceptions in Science Textbooks

Even if teachers are very knowledgeable on the subjects/topics they teach, misconceptions may still be passed on to students through the textbooks they use. Misconceptions can sometimes be easy to miss if the texts are not read carefully. There have been several studies/stories on this topic in the last decade. A couple of these would be Science texts not always by the book, An Analysis of Misconceptions in Science Textbooks, and Project 2061 Textbook Evaluations.

CNN reported in a story that “information in [science] books [are] often unfocused, fragmented, and sometimes downright wrong.” John Hubisz (a physics professor) examined many middle school science textbooks. Throughout his research, he found plenty of misconceptions/errors within the books including:

• Pictures of prisms bending light the wrong way
• Chemistry formulas and physics laws that are so "simplified" they are completely wrong
• A discussion of sound that says humans cannot hear below 400 hertz. But 47 notes on a piano are below 400 hertz
• A map showing the equator running through Texas and Florida, when it's actually about 1,500 miles south

He stated that not only do these texts have errors, but that they are full of disconnected facts. When talking with students, they also said that the books provide no motivation to read and learn about science.

All of these factors may be the reason that students in the United States are out-performed by other countries. William Schmidt stated that in fourth grade, students are performing towards “the top of the distribution among countries; by eighth-grade, we're around average, and by 12th-grade, we're at the bottom of the heap, outperforming only two countries, Cyprus and South Africa." This can be referred back to the “mile wide, inch deep” curriculum,” which is where teachers are expected to cover many topics with only a little coverage on each one.

An Analysis of Misconceptions in Science Textbooks was based on a study done recently (published in 210). Researchers surveyed over 50 texts and found that there was a “mean level of one earth science error/misconception per page.” There were more than 500 instances of misconceptions identified in these texts. The analysis includes examples of the most common misconceptions that were found along with how science education could be improved upon.

The last article I looked at was Project 2061 Textbook Evaluations by the AAAS. There were many links to summary and detailed reports on middle school science books and ratings of their instructional quality.

Overall, teachers need to be constantly aware of the text their students are reading. It would be an excellent idea to allow students to read a variety of texts when learning about a new concept/topic.


1 comment:

  1. Nicole,

    This is a very interesting topic. I just spent the past month researching why students in the United States lag behind students in other countries. Once of the recurring themes was that other countries have standardized curriculums including standardized textbooks. For example, in Japan, textbooks are very small compared to our huge hardbound counterparts. They are rich in content, but short on fluff. The textbook writers use the National Course of Studies to prepare the text books which are approved by the Japanese Minister of Education. In contrast, in the United States, the publishers try to create textbooks to sell to different states with differing curriculums and standards. There is no national entity reviewing the textbooks here for factual content. Because our textbooks are not standardized and because they are so big, as you demonstrated, there is a much greater chance of error and misinformation. Thank you for the great information.