Conceptual Challenges

Heather and many of her peers we confronted with having to compare their notions of how the Earth orbited the Sun with factual information.  The student’s initial thoughts were that seasons were affected by the earth being closer or further from the Sun. There were also a lot of misconceptions in regards to the phases of the Moon.  The students struggled to explain the most basic concepts orally and through the use of drawing a diagram.


I was actually just teaching a lesson on the Earth’s orbit, axis tilt, hemispheres, and seasonal impact to my fourth graders and it was interesting to hear their thoughts on the matter. Some of their ideas were quite similar to the answers the students gave in the video we watched. I rarely have the student’s use a textbook in the class because I find it quite boring and noninteractive.  I brought out the models of the planets and showed some videos on the projector, as well as gave them scenarios to apply their knowledge.  Most of my students are tactile learners and once they were able to manipulate the model of the solar system, things became more clear to them.


As teachers, it is important for us to connect all the little bits of knowledge that they students may have.   Vosniadou et al (1992) suggests that children can have a set of very fragmented ideas about how something works. They may try to connect those ideas in a way that makes sense in their mind.  As a result, this can fuel a misconception that they have believe to be a truth for years if no one challenges their thinking. Vosniadou (1992) goes further to state that children are theory builders and will continually construct  ideas about the Earth around them that are consistent with their personal experience. Posner et al (1982) suggests that teachers focus on the the actual content of the student’s ideas.  They argue that too much emphasis is places on understanding the underlying cognitive structures.


In activating prior knowledge teachers should get a sense of their student’s current understanding of a particular concept. Lucariello (n.d.) suggests that students can have a challenging time changing their ideas on their deeply entrenched thoughts. He suggests that students can help overcome this by their teacher using diverse methods of instruction, and bridging gaps through model based reasoning. Through creating an environment where the students can reflect on their thinking and assess their own understanding of a given topic, the classroom will inch closer to reconciling false notions.




Lucariello, J. (n.d.). How Do I Get My Students Over Their Conceptions (Misconceptions) for Learning? American Psychological Association. Accessed on January 14, 2017 from


Posner, G. J., Strike, K. A., Hewson, P. W. and Gertzog, W. A. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change. Sci. Ed., 66: 211–227. doi: 10.1002/sce.373066020


Vosniadou, S., & Brewer, W. F. (1992). Mental models of the earth: A study of conceptual change in childhood. Cognitive psychology, 24(4), 535-585

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