Watching A Private Universe (Shneps & Sadler, 1987) I was astounded that not only did so many of the graduate and high school students have misconceptions about the seasons, but also that they all seemed to have the same misconception. It was then that I started to question my own knowledge and understanding of the reason for seasons, checking my information by researching the question. The information that the students were giving about the reason we have seasons was logical and made sense given their initial information and the representative drawing from the text. I was enlightened when the video manipulated the drawing from the text from the side view to the bird’s eye view, demonstrating how the elliptical orbit could be misconstrued. I had never thought about this aspect before now.
Not being a particularly strong student in math or science, I have always felt that I would not be a very strong teacher of these subjects also. “Teachers cannot help children learn things they themselves do not understand” (Ball, 1991). As an elementary school teacher I am required to teach both of these and cover quite a quantity of concepts within the year. In science we cover chemistry, physics, matter & energy, and biology within two terms, which can be daunting for someone who made it through most of high school and university with little or no math and science instruction. In my early years of teaching I relied heavily on the science text books, trusting that they would allow me to impart the information and knowledge that the students were required to know. As I read the articles and watch the video I am left wondering how much my teaching contributed to some of the misconceptions my students may have had regarding science and math. Since then, I have developed my own knowledge through experimentation, research, and additional courses. I have realized some of my own misconceptions and with that have been able to identify some of my student’s misconceptions. Now that I am much more competent in my science and math teaching, it is easier for me to seek out student misconceptions in order to design lessons and activities to help students adjust their thinking.
In a research paper conducted by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the relationship between teacher knowledge and student learning was studied, and concluding that student learning is directly related to teacher knowledge. “If teachers hold such misconceptions themselves or simply are unaware that their students have such ideas, their attempts at teaching important concepts may be compromised” (Sadler et al, 2013). These leads me to two questions: How can teachers identify their own misconceptions and how can they better understand and identify misconceptions of their students?
Confrey notes that “children develop ideas about their world, develop meanings for words used in science, and develop strategies to obtain explanations of how and why things behave as they do, and that these naive ideas cannot be easily ignored or replaced” (Confrey, 1990). It is important for teachers to be able to tease out these misconceptions by probing a student’s conceptual framework using direct questioning allowing them to develop effective lessons and activities to provide opportunities for students to discover new information and correct their misconceptions. Previous research on student’s misconceptions shows that student’s have difficulty assimilating and acquiring scientific knowledge if their misconceptions are ignored or not adequately addressed. One way for teachers to address this gap is to consider that an emphasis on identifying and remediating holes in the teacher’s knowledge may be more helpful for the science teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom (Sadler et al).
Providing hands on activities and experiments for students to work through will allow them to interpret their results as opposed to arriving at an expected result. Technology such as virtual experiments, could be used in a classroom setting where the resources are inadequate for real experimentation. Programs such as Skype can be used to visit high school or college labs and see experiments performed live and allow the students to ask questions directly to the teacher or students performing the experiment. I have done this with our local high school science teacher, who was very enthusiastic about participating, and the students were fascinated with the results. The key is to allow the student to discover the science in order to add to their knowledge and understanding to help dispel misconceptions.