Dealing With Science Misconceptions

The Spring 2005 issue of the California Journal of Science Education is a Must-Read. It can be shocking for a teacher to realize that many of the science concepts we assume, and/or diligently teach are simply not accepted by many of our students, mainly because of the many misconceptions they have acquired in their young lives. They may "learn" the material presented in class, and even pass the tests, but misconceptions are very common, and very hard to replace. Unfortunately, many of those misconceptions persist in textbooks, and even you, as a science teacher, may find that you have some of these misconceptions.

This very informative volume introduces you to this phenomenon and provides a number of suggestions for effectively dealing with it. Several chapters deal with specific misconceptions common to particular topics in science (including evolution). In addition, author William McComas discusses 15 popular misconceptions related to the nature of science in his article: The Principal Elements of the Nature of Science:Dispelling the Myths (pp. 37-67). A careful read of that article alone provides considerable material and motivation to revise what you teach and how you teach it. It's worth listing his "15 Myths of Science," so you can anticipate the depth of the article:
Myth 1: Hypotheses become theories that in turn become laws.
Myth 2: Scientific laws and other such ideas are absolute.
Myth 3: A Hypothesis is an educated guess.
Myth 4: A general and universal Scientific Method exists.
Myth 5: Evidence accumulated carefully will result in sure knowledge.
Myth 6: Science and its methods provide absolute proof.
Myth 7: Science is procedural more than creative.
Myth 8: Science and its methods can answer all questions.
Myth 9: Scientists are particularly objective.
Myth 10: Experiments are the principal route to scientific knowledge.
Myth 11. Scientific conclusions are reviewed for accuracy.
Myth 12: Acceptance of new scientific knowledge is straightforward.
Myth 13: Science models represent reality.
Myth 14: Science and technology are identical.
Myth 15: Science is a solitary pursuit.

For each myth, examples are given along with clarifications and clues for appropriate treatment in class. You should also note that the several lessons in the ENSI Nature of Science section that directly address most (if not all) of those myths. There is also a sample unit plan to consider for teaching the nature of science. You might find it especially enlightening to give your students a pre-test (available in that unit plan) that assesses student perceptions about the nature of science, teach the material (using some of those lessons) as part of your introductory unit, then re-assess with a post-test. No guarantee that higher scores indicate acceptance, but at least you will have raised a greater awareness.

Read the book; Revise your course:
Dealing With Science Misconceptions
(Spring, 2005) is available from the California Science Teachers Association, 3800 Watt Ave., Ste. 100, Sacramento, CA 95821. Phone (916) 979-7004; FAX (916) 979-7023; email. Individual copies can be ordered for $10 plus $4 postage (per book); tax for Sacramento residents: add 78 cents; other CA residents, add 73 cents. There is also a part 2 issue of Dealing With Science Misconceptions, Part 2 (Spring, 2007) possibly still available from the same source.

THE LATEST STUDY on this issue was published in 2013:
Sadler, Phillip M., et al. (2013). The Influence of Teachers’ Knowledge on Student Learning in Middle School Physical Science Classrooms. Am Educ Res J, March 6, 2013.

OTHER EXCELLENT RESOURCES (from Understanding Science website):
Misconceptions about science
Misconceptions about teaching the nature and process of science
Educational research on teaching the nature and process of science