Conceptual Challenges

In A Private Universe, Heather struggles with exploring her understanding of the world. Her own personal theories are engrained and she has trouble abandoning them, even when she can be seen visually struggling with them. Heather is trying to put things together; trying to make sense of the concepts, but appears to confuse herself further. As a strategy, Heather draws out the concepts, attempting to explain her understanding of the seasons, but realizes that her new knowledge does not match with her preconceived theories. Posner, Strike, Hewson, & Gertzog (1982) would posit that Heather’s dissatisfaction with her “private universe” has met a condition for conceptual change to occur. Further instruction from her teacher with correct information has put Heather on a path toward correcting her conceptual challenges.


From my experience with middle school students, many misconceptions around science (and in math) concepts stem from previous simplification, such as drawings that are not done in scale or songs developed to assist in memorization. “Students’ minds are not blank slates able to receive instruction in a neutral way,” (Driver, Guesne, Tiberghie, 1985). Much like the visual presented with the Earth’s orbit, students’ past experiences reading books with limited perspectives displayed (blue veins, 2D drawings), show a simplified (and sometimes incorrect) version of events. Other times misconceptions may stem from the very limited time that was spent on a concept – never to be revisited until many years later, or from teachers’ own misunderstanding of concepts (Burgoon, Heddle, Duran, 2011). I believe that initial experiences with science are valuable and peek children’s curiosity of the world around them, however, as we are learning, some students resort back to these incorrect schemes even after presented with additional information.

What is encouraging is the role that technology can play in alleviating or correcting some of these initial misconceptions, for children, parents, and teachers. Children are able to explore and engage in simulations and 3D experiences with a variety of scientific concepts – and from an early age. Technology allows students to test a concept at school and often continue the learning or discussion at home if the technology is available. Correcting misconceptions in other ways, other than a worksheet or textbook, or talking to the teacher, allows the student to take ownership of their learning and can afford them choice.

If we don’t challenge and facilitate correction of students’ preconceived incorrect beliefs, they will continue to build on these inaccurate or incomplete foundations.




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


Driver, R., Guesne, E., & Tiberghien,A. (1985). Children’s ideas and the learning of science. Children’s ideas in science, 1-9.


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. Science Education, 66, 211-227.


  1. Thanks for the post Natalie. I agree it’s important to correct possible misconceptions as early as possible, though sometimes managing classes of 30+ can make monitoring individual understandings rather difficult. Sometimes I try to stress common problems students have made in the past, only to see the class fall into similar misunderstandings. This activity did highlight how students will make sense of their world, holding on to beliefs as long as possible, adapting new ideas to old frameworks, at times even keeping formal instruction separate from intuitive knowledge when logic fails.

  2. Great post Natalie.
    I completely agree with your statement, “If we don’t challenge and facilitate correction of students’ preconceived incorrect beliefs, they will continue to build on these inaccurate or incomplete foundations.” I touched on this in mine as well, as I am noticing that students are missing foundational building blocks, especially in Science. This has risen over the course of the year as we touch on different big ideas in our STEM challenges. Technology is a key component to this, as it allows us to personalize learning for students where they need it most. I also agree with you, that misconceptions arise from limited time on certain big ideas or learning intentions. This is why I love the new B.C. curriculum, that covers less content, but provides areas for deeper learning.
    Looking forward to reading your future reflections and responses.
    Danielle Peters

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