Transforming Misconceptions into Positive Learning Tools

Stepping Stones

In the case of scientific exploration in the classroom, the word “misconception” tends to relate to ideas that are inconsistent with scientific evidence. Generally, misconceptions are recognized as a negative aspect of the classroom environment. Instead of recognizing misconceptions negatively, instructors of science can transform the concept into one that can be a positive attribute that can contribute to long-term sense making in students. “What we Call Misconceptions May be Necessary Stepping Stones Toward Making Sense of the World” is an article identifying how misconceptions can be turned into sense-making exercises and classroom conversations to help students come to meaningful, and eventually “correct” views of scientific concepts.   

Telling students they are Wrong

Say a student has an incorrect idea about a topic. What would be the best course of action? A teacher’s first reaction might be to correct the student immediately. Unfortunately, telling students they are wrong and replacing their personal ideas with the correct educational views isn’t actually helping them learn, it’s just teaching the student to replace their own ideas with the information that a teacher may be giving them. This can make a student wonder why their ideas aren’t accurate and can make them feel as though their contributions are invalid at best. To the student, their ideas are completely valid when considering their personal experience with scientific prospects in the real world. With these ideas in mind, the goal in this situation would not be to correct a student, but to engage the student deeper into realizing their own reasoning. Asking them to reflect on their own ideas stemming from their experiences is a way in which we can take their misconception and turn it into a sense-making exercise. From here, the student can argue their evidence, and construct explanations to present to their peers in a way that is constructive to the classroom as a whole. 

Teacher opportunities to extend student reasoning

Being a facilitator and a guide in classroom discussion is the best way to bring a positive light to possible student misconceptions. It can be an impactful and powerful sentiment for a teacher to only guide students in the right direction, so that students may come to the correct conclusions themselves within their community. As a future teacher, I want to create that positive space and be that powerful presence to my students, and being a facilitator to student conversations can really help students process their own sense-making. In the end, this makes students more accountable for their own learning, and they can more easily think about concepts in a way that they can make sense of. Through this practice, a teacher can help students take control of their own ideas and be comfortable bringing them into the classroom community. The goal is really to get students to come together as their own scientific community where they can feel free to share ideas, which can ultimately lead to deeper understandings about scientific concepts. In the end, a teacher can really aid students in having meaningful conversations with their peers just by taking a step back and helping guide those conversations, which in turn will help students come to conclusions about why they may be making sense of something in a certain way. In this way, we can help form a new definition of “misconception” and turn it into a talking piece that the whole classroom can work together to make sense of.

A Few Notes about this PICK

  • The full length article is freely available at the NSTA Science Store. 
  • The original article is tagged at the NSTA Science Store as targeted for elementary school (Pre/K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), but the strategies given in the article could be used with any grade level.
  • Suggested strategies for facilitating leading students from misconception to conceptual understanding can be seen in figures 1, 2, and 3 in the original article. 




Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Campbell, T., Schwarz, C., & Windschitl, M. (2016). What We Call Misconceptions May Be Necessary Stepping-Stones Toward Making Sense of the World. Science Scope Sci. Scope, 039(07). doi:10.2505/4/ss16_039_07_19

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, March 1, 2016