Why facts don’t always fix misconceptions.
Whether or not they are aware of it, your students will arrive in the classroom with some level of prior knowledge that will affect their present learning experience in your course.
When prior knowledge is accurate, rich and well-organized, it can help students learn and retain new information. By asking learners to build on their understanding, we can situate what we are teaching them in the context of the relevant knowledge they already have.
However, when knowledge is inaccurate, incomplete or inappropriate, prior knowledge may serve to hinder future learning.
As students grow, they develop conceptual frameworks to explain their observations of the natural phenomena that occur around them. These conceptual frameworks are often intuitive but flawed in terms of scientific accuracy. Misconceptions pose a challenge to learning because they are often robust and prevent students from understanding future information correctly.
When students have misconceptions, particularly those involving central concepts in the discipline, their ability to acquire new knowledge and develop a higher level of understanding may be hindered.
For example, after observing the rise and fall of the sun, they may initially assume that the sun revolves around Earth. Since the person cannot directly observe Earth revolving around the sun, this conception will remain unless it is specifically challenged. People include these misconceptions within their conceptual framework of the topic, in this case astronomy, which may impact their understanding of any new knowledge that they acquire. If someone continues to believe that the sun revolves around Earth, it will be difficult for them to understand the relationship between Earth, the sun and the other planets in our solar system. Students will distort or ignore new information if it clashes with this more foundational understanding. This is why the misconception needs to be first identified and corrected before new knowledge is added to their conceptual framework.
Unfortunately, misconceptions tend to be difficult to change once they are connected to other concepts or misconceptions – creating a flawed mental model of the set of concepts. In that case, multiple misconceptions need to be addressed prior to any new learning of the material.
While there is no one right way to address all misconceptions, the following steps may serve as a guide.