Teacher/Student Misconceptions

While viewing “A Private Universe,” I was struck by the teacher centred style of instruction that was presented in the video, and the passive participation of the students in their learning. Regarding student misconceptions, and the instructional approaches to science, some of the key takeaways from the video were:

  • teacher assumptions of basic ideas, unaware of students private, personal theories (deeply ingrained)
  • use of ineffective visuals and/or teacher explanations
  • student confusion of diagrams and information from different sources
  • a need for using varied materials and resources to appeal to different learning styles
  • students struggle with blending of new concepts into original concepts as new concepts compete with preconceived ideas

I remember personally learning about science through similar instructional approaches to those seen in the video. According to these approaches, teachers generally have their own notions of how their students learn best, and they aim to build their instruction through these assumptions about their students’ prior knowledge and learning styles. As teachers aim to meet curricular outcomes and impart concepts and knowledge on to their students, the opportunities for students to engage with content in diverse and engaging ways becomes extremely limited.

Rather than viewing students as ‘blank slates’ or as ‘objects of teacher activity,’ educators need to arrive at a greater understanding of their students in terms of how learning activities affect their perceptions, knowledge, and beliefs (Shapiro 1988). There exists a need for clarifying student ideas about a particular scientific phenomena before they engage in classroom instructional experiences. According to Shapiro (1988), “we know that children’s pre-instructional ideas about natural phenomena can be very different from those which they are asked to accept in school.” From this, students need to develop the ability to interpret available evidence and make judgments about the rationality of arguments and concepts that may contradict their own previously held beliefs. Rather than the teacher being the dispenser of knowledge and information, the students take the lead in their own learning and are afforded the opportunity to engage with materials and generate ideas and questions without the teacher imposing their own personal limitations or restrictions as to how this experience should be carried out.

As presented by Fosnot (2005), constructivist approaches to learning allow students to learn best when they are provided with opportunities to actively construct ideas and relationships in their own minds based on experiences and experimenting, rather than being told what to do by an instructor. Students should be afforded the opportunity to engage in self-directed learning with the facilitation and feedback provided by the teacher and class peers to support students as they work towards attaining fundamental and relevant knowledge and skills.

Through providing lessons and experiences that offer authenticity and relevance, with opportunities for deeper collaboration and sharing of feedback, we can support students through leadership opportunities in the role of a creator or experimenter in their learning. According to Seymour Papert (1996), constructivist and constructionist theories support students in taking an active interest in understanding how they think about learning. Rather than passively accepting knowledge, students need to engage in conversations about strategies for learning and problem solving, which Papert described as a process of Learning about Learning (Papert, 1996). This fundamental approach to learning will allow students to access the skills and experience necessary to become full participants in 21st century learning environments. Through these learning opportunities, our students will be able to enhance their ability to articulate personal understandings and perceptions, develop their knowledge and skill through authentic practices, and participate in collaborative learning environments.



Fosnot, C.T. (2005). Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. (2nd Edition) Teachers College Press

Papert, S. (1996). The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap. Atlanta, Georgia: Longstreet Press.

Shapiro, B. L. (1988). What children bring to light: Towards understanding what the primary school science learner is trying to do. Developments and dilemmas in science education, 96-120.





  1. Allen,

    Your post nicely summarizes a positive and constructive approach to teaching and learning. My memories of science class included sitting quietly, doing lots of listening and copying information that was being fed to me. I remember very little about what I learned. Math class was not very different. I struggled with understanding some of the math concepts and resorted to memorizing algorithms and equations as a way of getting by. These experiences have helped to shape my philosophy of learning and the strategies I use to teach. I agree with your comment that rather than seeing students as “blank slates”, we should be encouraging them to take an active role in constructing a more meaningful learning experience.

  2. I think the research behind learning and education in general has come a long way since this video was made. Students were still very much viewed as empty vessels (even the teacher explained her expectation, here) to be passively filled with knowledge. The fact that the teacher in the video was willing to openly admit her surprise at the depth of her student’s misconceptions was probably unusual for the time, I think. An interesting post!

  3. Hi Allen,

    I really enjoyed reading your post and agree with your perspective. I was also focused on the teaching practices during the video. Heather wasn’t given the opportunity to explore her theories and actively construct knowledge through authentic experiences. She couldn’t differentiate learning experiences because they were all so similar. I also remember learning science and math in the same way and just continually switching textbooks for new classes. The only change in undergrad university was that the textbook was projected on a screen through PowerPoint. It does seem that students today are getting a more multifaceted experience and that constructivist theories are increasingly impacting many teachers practices.


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