Dealing with Misconceptions

The video introduced graduates having similar misconceptions before and after formal knowledge (ex. seasons from earth-sun distance; lunar phases from eclipsing clouds). The clip then focused on Heather’s private theories (ex. peculiar orbit, indirect bounce), confidently holding onto confusing assumptions with interpretive frameworks outliving contradictory instruction. These misconceptions are basic ideas and lingering thoughts arising from experience and association, not limited to perspective drawings or abstract concepts, but depend upon everyday sense perception (where in the first example closer does suggest warmer). Students have firm beliefs or naïve preconceptions through spontaneous interaction with their environments, adapting new ideas to prior knowledge, isolating formal instruction from intuition. Misconceptions are often surprising, pervasive and resilient contingent upon existing frameworks, where students misinterpret common sense (Chi, 2005) with loosely connected reinforcing conceptions that do not match reality. At times misconceptions even share correct propositions, which can be accurate in parts but incomplete affecting ease of removal. Students are not blank slates, and unless sufficiently dissatisfied with old models, are unlikely to accommodate new theories (Confrey, 1990).

In response, Posner et al. define learning as conceptual change, modifying paradigms through assimilation and accommodation, historically valued for problem solving over prediction making, requiring layered adaptation and reconciliation. Learners must face dissatisfaction with anomalies and be presented with intelligible, plausible and extendable alternative frameworks to challenge conceptual ecology (Posner et. al, 1982). Educators need to first probe student understanding, providing counterexamples and critical barriers with different kinds of knowledge, giving time to sort out confusion with expectations. Have students give reasons for answers, redirecting representations to focus attention and understanding belief as arbitrary point of view, having gradual tolerance for inconsistency to reconcile fundamental assumptions. Students learn through peer teaching and correction, straightening ideas with tangible manipulatives, making viable adaptations upon empirical data and reflection. Teachers need to help learners be aware of continual competition between new concepts and old ideas to free them from private universes, giving value to process as well as outcome.

References

Chi, M. T. (2005). Commonsense conceptions of emergent processes: Why some misconceptions are robust. The journal of the learning sciences14(2), 161-199.

Confrey, J. (1990). A review of the research on student conceptions in mathematics, science, and programming. Review of research in education, 16, 3-56.

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.

3 comments

  1. “Students are not blank slates, and unless sufficiently dissatisfied with old models, are unlikely to accommodate new theories.” Adults, too! How many times have you had a conversation with someone and realized that they were coming to the conversation with a completely different set of understandings? If there is no reason to change, why change? So much of teaching is not just “having the answers” but instead, convincing students (and adults!) to see a reason for tolerating discomfort while things… change. Great post!

  2. I really liked your comment “Teachers need to help learners be aware of continual competition between new concepts and old ideas to free them from private universes, giving value to process as well as outcome.” I often wonder in my present situation where technology lies in this equation as I have many students that come into my class with what I consider “old ideas” about the use of technology. Most of them have been taught that it is used as a research tool or an entertainment platform. Many of the teachers in my school have turned their back on technology as they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with how it fits into the way they have been teaching for decades. They are very surprised to see the power of Virtual Reality, Coding, Minecraft and 3D printing applied to core subjects. However they move on after one year and the “old ideas” are yet again applied. I can only hope I have opened up some competing ideas and concepts that they can transfer into their new environment. Have you experienced this situation I am describing in your classroom?

    1. I haven’t personally experienced the situation you’re describing, but can totally see that happening when the latest and greatest technology (ex. VR, Coding, Minecraft, 3D printing) is seen to be out there, where we opt to use older technology beneath the guise of limitations in resources or fear of trying something new. As such, it becomes even more important for teachers to model healthy risk taking with technology to maximize the affordances it provides.

      Cheers,
      Andrew

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