Watching the video on common misconceptions about the causes of the seasons and the phases of the moon, I was reminded of when I taught Biology 12 this summer and just how challenging it was for students to grasp the mental model I was trying to communicate. I tried to be creative in how I delivered my lessons by using analogies and manipulatives but still I found many students would erroneously add details or fill in gaps with incorrect information. Why weren’t they able to acknowledge gaps in their understanding and ask for clarification? Why did they invent facts? I don’t believe they were simply too embarrassed to acknowledge their misconception. Our brains are great at finding patterns and filling in for missed information. In the image below, it is difficult not to see the unbordered white triangle in the middle. Our brain fills in what it can’t see. I feel like this is analogous to how students fill in missing information in order to complete a mental model of a particular process. Unfortunately in science, if these assumptions go unchecked, students risk carrying the burden of their false assumptions year after year. I no longer rely solely on written output to find out what my students understand. I have long since adopted oral assessments whereby students are asked to explain their understanding of processes fundamental to the unit of study.
In many cases, the students are actually taught misconceptions. There is mounting research that shows that misconceptions concerning science are prevalent among teachers. Nancy J. Pelaez et al. (2005) for instance, investigated the prevalence of blood circulation misconception among prospective elementary teacher in the US and found that “70% of prospective elementary teachers did not understand the dual blood circulation pathway, 33% were confused about blood vessels, 55% had wrong ideas about gas exchange, 19% had trouble with gas transport and utilization, and 20% did not understand lung function”. I would be curious to see how many of my colleagues would agree that veins in their wrists are blue because they carry deoxygenated blood (deoxygenated blood is still red). My hope is that through greater inquiry based education, teachers will be less required to the absolute bearers of all knowledge and can focus on teaching students the skills required to consolidate, criticize and explain information.
“Kanizsa Triangle.” Optics For Kids – Optical Illusions. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
Pelaez, N. J. “Prevalence of blood circulation misconceptions among prospective elementary teachers.” AJP: Advances in Physiology Education 29.3 (2005): 172-81. Web.