Conceptual Challenges

Heather’s challenges involved logical yet inaccurate theories, confusion that occurred when she blended new concepts with pre-existing knowledge and unawareness of private theories.


When I was watching the video of Heather, I had this realization that I also have misconceptions in the science and math disciplines as a learner. I recall myself generating logical reasonings to explain scientific phenomenons. Furthermore, as an elementary teacher, I am responsible for delivering accurate knowledge to my students. This lingering thought provoked me to look at teacher misconceptions and how they compare with student misconceptions in science, specifically. I came across an article by Burgoon, Heddle and Duran (2011) that was quite recent and focused on comparing the misconceptions about physical science between elementary teachers and students. Elementary science teachers were assessed on their physical science knowledge. The results showed the elementary science teachers shared similar misconceptions in topics of temperature, gases, magnetism and gravity. Of course, these results cannot be generalized to the entire population of science teachers, but it does indicate some concern as teachers who have misconceptions, can contribute to further misconceptions for their students. For instance, a possible source of student misconception comes from an unreliable source (like a teacher)!


I found this article relevant to Paul Cobb’s article titled “Where is the mind? Constructivist and sociocultural perspectives on mathematical development”. The chapter discussed the similarities and differences between two trends in constructivist-based research in education: a cognitive theory that emphasizes self-organization of knowledge process within the learner and a sociocultural theory that focuses on the sociohistorical aspect of knowledge construction. This is relevant to Burgoon et al. (2011)’s article because it indicates the importance of students and teachers being able to demonstrate awareness of misconceptions within themselves but also to point out misconceptions of others through participation in discussions and collaborative learning. Specifically, Cobb (1994) emphasizes that learning occurs both from self-organization of knowledge as well as through participation in cultural practices (i.e. formal schooling).


The other article I chose to read was from Confrey (1990) that discussed various student misconceptions in mathematics. At the end, several propositions for implications were mentioned. It sheds insight on Burgoon et al. (2011)’s article because these suggestions for minimizing misconceptions for students can possibly be applied to teachers. Particularly, teachers should take opportunities to reflect on their own misconceptions using those strategies.


Digital technology can help children and teachers address these conceptions in various ways. More hands-on learning where students directly manipulate objects will help them visualize their conceptions. is a website that has virtual simulations of all topics in science. Students can explore them prior to hands-on experimentation. Online discussion forums can also help students address misconceptions because they can reflect on their learning on them and others can make comments on their knowledge. These forums should be monitored by educators who can also express their knowledge.


Burgoon, J. N., Heddle, M. L., & Duran, E. (2011). Re-examining the similarities between teacher and student conceptions about physical science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22(2), 101-114. doi:10.1007/s10972-010-9196-x

Cobb, Paul. “Where is the mind? Constructivist and sociocultural perspectives on mathematical development.” Educational researcher 23, no. 7 (1994): 13-20.


  1. Hi Gloria,
    Thank you for sharing your interesting resource that you found. I am looking forward to seeing the more recent research that people find this week!

    Have you ever come across the website, All About Explorers, ? If you have a moment to check it out, it is hilarious. A group of teachers were looking to teach their students how to research properly on the internet and that you cannot always trust everything that is on a website. If you check out some of the explorers’ pages you will see some accurate facts that sound logical. As you keep reading, however, there may be some surprising information that makes you pause for a moment, and if you read the entire page you will notice that much of what is written is actually ridiculous (i.e. Samuel de Champlain along with his buddy Jacques Cartier were co-owners of the Quebec Nordiques NHL team and then sold it to the Colorado Avalanche). Not only can in person experiences develop the construction of knowledge, but for many of our students now, what they encounter online is part of their knowledge structures, too. Media of all types consciously and unconsciously enters our minds, challenging and building on what we believe to be true.


    1. Hi Allison,

      Thanks for sharing this hilarious site! This is a perfect example about the sources of knowledge students can obtain digitally, a perfect connection to this week’s discussion. I will definitely be using this site with my students to show them the unreliability of the internet!

  2. Hi Gloria,
    I found it very interesting that you mention teacher misconceptions as well as student misconceptions. It is something that caught my interest as well, especially as I was watching the video and checking my own understanding as they were discussing the reason for seasons. It made me wonder how many teachers have misconceptions about subject matter that they are not familiar with teaching. This may be especially true for elementary teachers who have to teach all the subjects to their students. I tend to check very carefully into subjects that I am not familiar with teaching to be sure that I am not perpetrating or creating misconceptions with my students. Thank you for the insightful post.


  3. HI Gloria,
    Great post. I really liked how you focussed on the possibility of teacher misconceptions. From my experience it is a very real phenomenon. As Anne mentioned above, especially in elementary, there are those who teach subjects they are not necessarily comfortable with and have their own misconceptions about. The sad part is when these people do not realize they are in error and pass their misconceptions on as fact. Your statement regarding awareness of misconceptions is very poignant.
    A personal example from my teaching career in this area is as follows:
    As teaching assignments frequently change I found myself the grade six teacher, with a new staff member in the grade five class below me. AFter the first year in these positions I found myself confused. All of the students from the new staff members class were adamant that i did not know math because I forgot the fifty thousands column on the place value chart. I chalked it up to them not understanding what they had learned. Re taught the place value chart and moved on. Next year the same thing happened… all the students from the same teacher had the same misconception. I retaught again but was really bewildered how the same misconception had arisen in so many students. I spoke informally to the two grade six teachers, in what I hope was a very friendly way, just saying how weird it was. Both teachers laughed and said kids are just so unpredictable. Then the day of understanding. Walking past the classroom of the teacher who students believed there was a fifty thousands column was teaching a math lesson and I heard the unmistakeable words come from the teacher…. That goes in the fifty thousands column. What????? I looked in and there on the board was a self made laminated place value chart with the fifty thousands column in all its glory. At least the mystery was solved and I managed (i hope) to tell the other staff member in a very non threatening way of their misconception.

    1. Thanks Catherine for sharing your personal experience!

      Your example definitely points towards the importance of humility in an educator! These days my students are quick to point to my mistakes and I quick to admit that like everyone, I make silly mistakes too!

  4. Dear Gloria,

    It is a good reminder to view the Harvard grads as having similar misconceptions as Heather. These misconceptions often form early in life and are quite robust. As you shared in the Burgoon et al (2011) paper, “The results showed the elementary science teachers shared similar misconceptions in topics of temperature, gases, magnetism and gravity. Of course, these results cannot be generalized to the entire population of science teachers, but it does indicate some concern as teachers who have misconceptions, can contribute to further misconceptions for their students.” What was an additional example of a shared misconception from this paper? Thank you, Samia

    1. Hi Samia (sorry for the late reply!)

      An example of a shared misconception related to temperature was that “some objects are inherently warmer or colder than other objects”, was expressed by nearly half of the teachers and was also a common assumption by students. This is interesting because it fits with their knowledge of metal containers feeling “cold” and blankets being “warm” and are therefore colder/warmer than other objects.

Leave a Reply to samia Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *