What We Call Misconceptions

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What We Call Misconceptions

Teacher 3
What We Call Misconceptions May Be Necessary Stepping-Stones Toward Making Sense of the World”
The professors who wrote the article “Why We Call Misconceptions May Be Necessary Stepping-Stones Toward Making Sense of the World” remind teachers to be careful of shutting down students’ reasoning about scientific phenomena by trying to immediately correct their preconceptions about science.  Instead, teachers should use strategies to help students in their sense-making about science phenomena.  

If students think their misconceptions are wrong and need to be corrected by the authority of the teacher or text, they won’t work through the process that it takes to really understand what’s happening with the scientific endeavor.  They will only memorize the book or teacher’s knowledge but can later fall back on their old way of thinking if they did not really understand what was happening.

Many of the preconceptions about science that my students have are based on what they hear on TV, movies, or the news.  That seems to be first and foremost what pops into their heads when I mention a certain scientific topic.  Sometimes scientific ideas come from their own guesses and observations, such as, tides and waves being caused by the wind. It depends somewhat on how much exposure they’ve had to the topic.
In this article we were given strategies to help students in their sense-making of science phenomena. We should include some level of uncertainty in science activities so that we can engage the students in scientific reasoning, rather than just confirming teacher and textbook ideas. As teachers, we can allow students to engage in their own ideas and experiences from everyday life so that they can build and change their scientific thinking.  We can model out loud how to reason about ideas of science.  We can encourage sharing of scientific ideas with each other and with the whole group so that we know that scientific reasoning is a collective sense-making endeavor.  This makes for longer-lasting learning.

Teachers can allow safe places for students to engage in reasoning when moving toward sense-making.  A teacher’s response during student reasoning is so important and should not shut down the reasoning by immediately correcting student thought.  Responses that teachers can give include re-voicing the students’ ideas, asking for clarifications, and asking for other students to work with them.
Teachers can guide students by using questions, such as, “What do you see going on here?  What do you think is causing this?  What might be going on here that we can’t see?  What are some things we’re unsure about here?  What puzzles do we still have?  Can you compare your ideas with other students’ ideas?”
Finding enough instructional time for teachers to engage students in scientific reasoning can be a challenge in a school setting.  Scaffolding students’ reasoning can take additional time.  Also, scientific discussions amongst students don’t always move from less to more sophisticated thought.  Teachers can watch for how well the students are collaborating, how well they used science and engineering practices to refine their thinking, and how well are they working with the ideas of other students, teacher, or textbook.  

All of these ideas are helpful for teachers to support students as they reason about science, rather than just accept a teacher or textbook’s ideas about scientific thought.  These ideas are helpful to carry out the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which emphasizes learning as sense-making.  I plan to use these strategies, ideas, and questions with my students as they engage in science practices to make sense of phenomena.