Discussion 5 Write a brief (one paragraph) summary for each reading. (the readings are attached) Choose one of the following reflective prompts and resp

Discussion 5 Write a brief (one paragraph) summary for each reading. (the readings are attached)

Choose one of the following reflective prompts and resp

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Discussion 5 Write a brief (one paragraph) summary for each reading. (the readings are attached)

Choose one of the following reflective prompts and respond.

Page Keeley describes several commonly held misconceptions about misconceptions. What advice does she share about how to address student misconceptions? Describe one example of how you might do this in your future classroom. Be sure to specify a science topic students may have misconceptions about!
Choose one of the misconceptions in the Yin et al. (2008) reading. Explain why a student might have this misconception – what life experiences may have led to this kind of thinking? What specific classroom activities could you implement to help students rebuild or modify their understanding of WTSF (why things sink and float)? GUEST EDITORIAL

SCIENCE SCOPE12

Misunderstanding misconceptions
by Page Keeley

P
reexisting ideas held by students that are
contrary to modern scientific thinking about
the natural world are generally referred to as
misconceptions. Today there is tremendous

interest among practitioners in learning how to
use various tools and techniques to elicit students’
misconceptions in science. Since the release of
the first book in the Uncovering Student Ideas in
Science series (Keeley, Eberle, and Farrin, 2005),
I have worked with thousands of educators to help
them effectively use formative assessment probes to
reveal their students’ thinking and make instructional
decisions based on their students’ ideas. During my
professional development work with teachers and other
practitioners interested in using the probes, I have
encountered several “practitioner misunderstandings”
about misconceptions that I’d like to share:

t� “MM�NJTDPODFQUJPOT�BSF�UIF�TBNF�� The word mis-
conception is frequently used to describe all ideas
students bring to their learning that are not com-
pletely accurate. In contrast, researchers often
use labels such as BMUFSOBUJWF�GSBNFXPSLT, OBÕWF�
JEFBT, QIFOPNFOPMPHJDBM� QSJNJUJWFT, DIJMESFO�T�
JEFBT, etc., to imply that these ideas are not com-
pletely “wrong” in a students’ common-sense
world. Scientifically inaccurate ideas have also
been categorized in a variety of ways, including
QSFDPODFJWFE�OPUJPOT, OPOTDJFOUJmD�CFMJFGT, concep-
UVBM� NJTVOEFSTUBOEJOHT, WFSOBDVMBS� NJTDPODFQ-
tions, and GBDUVBM� NJTDPODFQUJPOT (NRC, 1997).
It is important to understand that the word mis-
conception is a general way of lumping together
students’ scientifically inaccurate or partially ac-
curate ideas. Once a misconception is identified,
teachers should delve further to understand the
type of misconception the student holds. Identi-
fying a specific type of misconception can help
teachers make better decisions for addressing

students’ ideas. For example, vernacular miscon-
ceptions arise from the way we use words in our
every day language ( the use of GPPE to describe
“plant food” or BDDFMFSBUJPO to mean going faster)
versus the scientific use of words. Knowing that
a misconception originated from a students’ ev-
eryday encounter with a word or phrase can help
teachers identify strategies for helping students
be more aware of the impact word use has on
their scientific thinking.

t� “MM� NJTDPODFQUJPOT� BSF� NBKPS� CBSSJFST� UP� MFBSO-
JOH� Just as some learning standards have more
weight in promoting conceptual learning than
others, the same is true of misconceptions. For
example, the idea that when once-living material
decays, it simply disappears and no longer exists,
presents a significant conceptual barrier to un-
derstanding what happens to the flow of matter
in ecosystems. In contrast, students who think
the blood in our veins is blue also have a miscon-
ception. While scientifically incorrect, this “blue
blood” idea does not significantly affect students’
conceptual understanding of blood flow and the
circulatory system. A conceptual misconception
warrants greater attention than a trivial factual
misconception. When developing assessments
that probe for students’ misconceptions, it is im-
portant to focus on key conceptual ideas rather
than minor facts.

t� 0OMZ�iUIPTFw�TUVEFOUT�IBWF�NJTDPODFQUJPOT� I have
worked with some teachers who initially believed
that their low-performing students or students in
the general classes were the ones who primarily
had misconceptions about fundamental ideas in
science. Wrong! Everyone harbors misconcep-
tions, regardless of age, socioeconomic back-
ground, or academic achievement. Even science
teachers hold some deeply rooted misconcep-
tions that remained unchallenged throughout

A p r i l / M a y 2 0 12 13

GUEST EDITORIAL

their K–16 education. The assumption that mis-
conceptions are more apt to surface among cer-
tain types of students is generally false. As the
Private Universe series has shown us, even the
brightest students who go on to top universi-
ties like Harvard and MIT have misconceptions
about basic, fundamental ideas (Private Universe
Project 1995). Probing for basic misconceptions
is important for all students.

t� .JTDPODFQUJPOT�BSF�B�CBE�UIJOH��I have observed
that the word misconception seems to have a pejo-
rative connotation to most practitioners. Students
do not come to the classroom as blank slates. In
fact, they come with many preconceived ideas
about how the world works that make sense to
them. According to constructivist theory, when
new ideas are encountered, they are either ac-
cepted, rejected, or modified to fit existing con-
ceptions. It is the cognitive dissonance students
experience when they realize an existing mental
model no longer works for them that makes stu-
dents willing to give up a preexisting idea in favor
of a scientific one. Having ideas to work from,
even if they are not completely accurate, leads
to deeper understanding when students engage
in a conceptual-change process (Watson and
Konicek 1990). Starting with students’ existing
conceptions is like building a bridge from where
they currently are to where you want them to be
conceptually. Researcher Philip Sadler (1998) de-
scribes misconceptions as “steppingstones” that
are absolutely essential for helping our students
gradually change their mental models, so they
can understand the modern scientific view of our
natural world and the universe around us.

t� .JTDPODFQUJPOT�NVTU�CF�mYFE� Teachers have often
told me they feel compelled to correct a miscon-
ception on the spot. This tendency to “fix” miscon-
ceptions is common. The longer a misconception
remains unchallenged, the stronger a student will
hold on to it. Yet that does not mean misconcep-
tions go away by merely correcting students. As
described above, misconceptions can be useful.
Rather than trying to “fix” students by correcting
their inaccurate ideas on the spot, it is important
to provide instructional experiences that will con-
front students with their thinking and guide them
through a process of conceptual change that al-
lows them to willingly give up the misconception.

However, there comes a point when you can’t let
a misconception linger indefinitely.

t� .JTDPODFQUJPOT�DPNF�NPTUMZ�GSPN�FYQFSJFODFT�PVU-
TJEF� PG� UIF� DMBTTSPPN� Many preconceptions stu-
dents bring to their learning come from their
everyday encounters with the natural world or
things they have read in books or seen in the
media. However, it is harder for teachers to ac-
cept that misconceptions can also arise from
students’ experiences inside their classroom,
whether taught intentionally or unintentionally.
For example, a surprising number of high school
students, even after taking chemistry, think that a
chemical bond is a structural part of an atom that
links it to other atoms (Keeley, Eberle, and Tugel
2007). While a teacher most likely did not teach
this, the use of ball-and-stick models or structural
diagrams inadvertently led to this misconception.
It is important to know that students make their
own meaning out of activities they experience in
the classroom, representations and models they
use, and words they hear in the classroom.

t� *EFOUJGZJOH�NJTDPODFQUJPOT�JT�GPSNBUJWF�BTTFTTNFOU�
Teachers from all over the country have shared
with me their enthusiasm for using the probes in
the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series
to identify their students’ misconceptions. Some
teachers erroneously think that formative assess-
ment is mostly about identifying students’ miscon-
ceptions. Using probes to identify students’ mis-
conceptions is a form of diagnostic assessment.
Diagnostic assessment does not become forma-
tive assessment until you use the information you
have gathered about students’ misconceptions
to change or modify your instruction in order to
help students achieve conceptual understanding.
That is the essence of formative assessment, with
the focus placed on instructional and conceptual
change, not the act of identifying misconceptions.

I use the word misconception throughout my publica-
tions because of its familiarity in the practitioner commu-
nity. However, familiarity can lead to complacency when
practitioners are not clear about what a misconception
is and how to best address it. Recognizing that the word
misconception is a general way of referring to views
students hold about the natural world that differ from
conventional scientific explanations is the first step in
dispelling some of the misunderstandings practitioners

A p r i l / M a y 2 0 12 15

GUEST EDITORIAL

Page Keeley (pkeeley@mmsa.org) is a past-president
of NSTA (2008–2009), and the senior science program

director for the Maine Mathematics & Science Alliance

in Augusta, Maine.

have about misconceptions. Second, it is important to
take the time to understand what type of misconception
a student has and how it may have developed. Third,
resist the urge to immediately correct a misconcep-
tion; instead, use students’ ideas as springboards to
guide them through a process of conceptual change.
Understanding is a continuous process that happens
throughout a students’ education as well as teachers’
practice. Understanding what underlies the word mis-
conception will ultimately improve student learning and
strengthen teaching. ■

References
Keeley, P., F. Eberle, and L. Farrin. 2005. Uncovering student

ideas in science: 25 formative assessment probes. Arling-
ton, VA: NSTA Press.

Keeley, P., F. Eberle, and J. Tugel. 2007. Uncovering student
ideas in science: 25 more formative assessment probes.
Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

National Research Council (NRC). 1997. Science teaching
reconsidered. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

Private Universe Project. 1995. The Private Universe teacher
workshop series. Videotape. South Burlington, VT: The An-
nenberg/CPB Math and Science Collection.

Sadler, P.M. 1998. Psychometric models of student con-

ceptions in science: Reconciling qualitative studies and

distracter-driven assessment instruments. Journal of
Research in Science Teaching 35 (3): 265.

Watson, B., and R. Konicek. 1990. Teaching for conceptual

change: Confronting children’s experience. Phi Delta Kap-
pan 71 (9): 680–84.

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