The Misconception


Learning Objectives

  • Become aware of various types of misconceptions.
  • Find common misconceptions either through internet research or through classroom practice that pertain to a specific content area.
  • Develop a lesson to promote student dissatisfaction and begin the process of conceptual change.


As we grow up we experience natural phenomena in a variety of settings on a daily basis. Experiences range from the mundane of watching water boil for the first time; to witnessing a jaw dropping lunar eclipse. People of all ages will place these new experiences into their brains somehow making them fit with existing epistemilogical frameworks. The human mind attempts to reconcile the new with the old. The way the new knowledge is placed into the existing can lead to errors. Unless there is someone knowledgable in the field available to provide feedback and answer questions the developed conception of a natural phenomena could be spurious and lead to a deeply entrenched misconception. A science teacher needs to not only know about these misconceptions, but know their diversity, how to ilicit them, and how to change the student's conception.

Learning Activities

Activity 1: Introduction


Watch the following video on misconceptions and learning:


Keep in mind the following while completing the reading:

  • Are all misconceptions the same? How can they differ?
  • What are some methods you can use to identify misconceptions?
  • What are some ways to help students overcome their misconceptions?

Read: Chapter 4 (pgs 27-32): Misconceptions as Barriers to Understanding Science in the book "Science teaching reconsidered: a handbook By Committee on Undergraduate Science Education" (U.S.) available here [1]

Activity 2: Identifying Misconceptions

To find common misconceptions for a given subject one only need type in "common (put subject here) misconceptions" into the Google search bar and hit enter. There are other sources such as lists presented in journals specific to a field of study (see page 32 in the above reading) that you can also read through. The one trick to internet searching is to keep the subject somewhat large, too narrow a focus will yield poorer results. For instance searching for "biology" misconceptions will yield better results than a search for "limnology."

Finding out what misconceptions students' have in your classroom is more challenging. With experience teachers know what misconceptions are generally present and how to determine if indeed they are and to what extent. Indeed, experienced physical science teachers recognize that if they ask a probing question such as, "Why does ice float in water?" that misconceptions regarding density will arise. In this example a student's response may be, "Because it has air bubbles in it."

Therefore determining misconceptions is done by asking the right questions that elicit a student response.


  • Find three different misconceptions, each in a different subject area.
  • For each of the three misconceptions you have identified above write a probing question that would elicit student misconceptions.
    • Example Misconception: Things float in water because they have air (bubbles) in them.
    • Example Question: Why does ice float on water?

Activity 3: Dissatisfaction

Misconceptions are often deeply held and students are not likely to let go of them easily. Students need to realize that their current conception is inadequate and can't explain all phenomena. They are then no longer satisfied with their conception as it stands and their minds open up to accept a new framework. Student dissatisfaction can be fostered via demonstrations, activities/labs, and discussions. Professional judgment must be used when matching a demo, lab or activity with given misconception. When viewing a demo or lab ask yourself the following:

Will students be engaged by it? Find it interesting? Does the demo/activity match the misconception in a meaningful way or just scratch the surface? Are there simple probing questions that go along with the demo/activity?

Consider the "World is Flat" video from the introduction. The activity students engaged in was directly related to the misconception regarding heat that somehow mittens and gloves produce heat.


  • Choose one of the three misconceptions from above.
  • Plan a lesson that elicits the misconception and then causes student dissatisfaction with their current knowledge. Several demonstration and experiment lesson links are provided below. You may find it easier to search for demonstrations and activities for the specific concept your addressing. Remember, the demo or activity doesn't have to be complicated to promote dissatisfaction. Sometimes the simplest things can do it!

For example, in my class to begin talking about density I use a density rod [2]. Basically it is a piece of metal that floats in cool water, but sinks in warm water. A plastic version does the opposite.


Construct a concept map that interrelates the following terms:




preconceived notion

unscientific belief

conceptual misunderstanding

vernacular misconception

factual misconception

conceptual framework

You may use cmap[7] to construct the concept map. For help on what a concept map is and how to do it visit [8]. Use the provided wiki discussion space to post your concept map and ask questions.


On to Unit 2:The 7E Model

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