Dealing with misconceptions in science

Kavita Krishna

As science teachers we often come face to face with incomplete or inaccurate scientific concepts held by children. Recently, I asked students in a rural school for an example of a living thing that lives underground. A 10 year old promptly and confidently answered, “Bhudevi” (or the Earth Goddess). That answer was a reminder to me that a science teacher’s viewpoint and a child’s viewpoint may be quite different!

As teachers our focus is more often on emphasizing “correct” knowledge. Textbooks and curricula tell us what to teach, and we may often not stop to consider children’s ideas. By understanding children’s existing schema we can teach in ways that help them develop sound scientific concepts and scientific thinking. This article looks at the sources of children’s misconceptions and some ways in which they can be addressed.

Children come to science classes with many pre-existing ideas. “The Earth is flat”, “All animals have four legs”, “The swaying branches of a tree produce wind” are examples of common misconceptions that primary school children bring with them. Prior experiences, popular cultural beliefs and information learnt from others all contribute to the models (or schema) that children construct in their minds. But, many of these models can be quite different from the concepts that are taught in school.

The first step to helping students learn correct scientific concepts is to become aware of the kinds of misconceptions they hold. There are several ways to do this in the classroom. Some ideas are given below.

The author is currently developing science curricular material for rural school students and teachers at the Rishi Valley Education Center. She can be contacted at kavitak@rishivalley.org.

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