Better teaching: Misconceptions in Science

It ain’t what they don’t know that gives them trouble, it’s what they know that ain’t so.” Will Rogers
"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge" Stephen Hawking

“The students don’t understand it and that’s because the professor doesn’t understand it either.” Richard Feynman

“Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough—as most wrong theories are!” H.G. Wells

"You must unlearn what you have learned" Image from Starwars
Effective science teachers are aware of pupils’ misconceptions Becoming aware of students' misconceptions must be your first step. From Harvard
Teachers who can spot misconceptions have much larger classroom gains than teachers who only know correct answers

Abstract of a research paper on same topic from Americal Education Research Journal

Why it's important to acknowledge these misconceptions Blog post from
Good science teachers will know in advance what students are likely to reply in answer to a particular question And this is necessary to make progress.
From Daniel Willingham.
Targeting science misconceptions in middle school students: what the reseach tells us Link 10 page pdf.
Confuse Students to Help Them Learn Link

"It seems that, if you just present the correct information, five things happen," he said. "One, students think they know it. Two, they don’t pay their utmost attention. Three, they don’t recognize that what was presented differs from what they were already thinking. Four, they don’t learn a thing. And five, perhaps most troublingly, they get more confident in the ideas they were thinking before.
From the

Why Misconceptions Are So Tough Link From
Making Sense of Secondary Science: Research into Children's Ideas Seminal book on the subject; link is to page
How to Help Students Overcome Misconceptions Link Blogpost from Professor Taylor at

Convincing Reluctant Teachers.

Frank's advice is to have the reluctant teachers administer a basic conceptual diagnostic test to their students

So what's a conceptual diagnostic test? I don't think this will convince relucant teachers but if you're open to challenging your own habits then give it a go.
Diagnostic questions - a formative assessment tool Link "they not only tell you which students have some understanding of the idea we are thinking about, they also give you some information about the misconceptions of those who do not use the accepted scientific explanation."
From the University of York Science Education Group (UYSEG)
Sample questions from Mechanics Baseline Test Link In pdf format from
Examples of Misconceptions    
Myths and misconceptions about evolution Link From
Misconceptions about how we see Nice activity to give to students to tease out their understanding. From
Misconceptions in Science A part of the impressive Project 2061 from the AAAS
Misconceptions in Science Web-page from Misconceptions listed by topic
Combating Students’ Misconceptions Link Blogpost with useful links from
Misconceptions in Chemistry Vanessa Kind: "Beyond Appearances"
Series of misconceptions by topic for secondary level From the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Series of videos on student misconceptions Including some of the classics on electricity, light and photosynthesis. From Harvard
More examples Series of videos on different misconceptons. From Annenberg Media
More examples Link From the American Psychological Association
Confessions of a Converted Lecturer: Eric Mazur Link Eric Mazur: "I thought I was a good teacher until I discovered my students were just memorizing information rather than learning to understand the material. YouTube. 1 hour
How long does it take the Earth to go around the sun?

30% of Australians believe it takes one day. 1veritasium on YouTube. 1 min

Misconceptions About Falling Objects

1veritasium on YouTube. 3 mins. But the key point is that the presenter doesn't explain why the ratio of forces and inertias is the same.

Misconceptions about temperature 1veritasium on YouTube. 4 mins
Misconceptions About Heat Link veritasium on YouTube. 5 mins
How damaging is radiation? 1veritasium on YouTube. 4 mins
Evolution misconceptions pdf document

Where do trees get their mass from?

1veritasium on
Newton's Third Law YouTube. 4 mins from 1veritasium
Misconceptions related to force and momentum Eugenia Etkina YouTube. 4 mins
Studies show most students hold ideas about force and momentum that pre-date Newton Link pdf article from Scientific American
The trouble with teaching Energy From Robin Millar, University of York
Why 'Energy' is such a difficult topic to teach Abstract for journal. Click on "Manuscript File" to view the full document

Misconceptions on electricity


Students’ understanding of direct current resistive electrical circuits

Misconceptions in chemistry pdf document from the RSC
Khan Academy and the effectiveness of science videos veritasium on YouTube. 8 mins
Derek from Veritasium talks to Nottingham videos about his work YouTube. 14 mins.
The key to effective educational science videos Veritasium on TED TalentSearch. YouTube. 14 mins
  Link YouTube. 6 mins from veritasium on TED

Veritasium critiquing khan academy and effectiveness of his videos

How Do I Get My Students Over Their Alternative Conceptions (Misconceptions) for Learning? Link

Removing barriers to aid in the development of the student.
Paper from the American Psychological Association .
Links to lots of related concepts and examples

A little survey for you or your students to take to test your own understanding of some concepts in Physics (40 questions)

Press 'Submit' at any stage to check your answers. From