Misconceptions in science education




Results 1

Results 2


Final conclusions



Educational research

This work was realized during my PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) course, when I was teaching in English secondary schools. The title of this research is:

Misconceptions in science education


The resource package Misconceptions on KS3 science, produced by the DfES, provided me with the inspiration for this research. It introduced me to the issue and showed me the most common misconceptions and how they evolve throughout KS3. I decided to take it further and analyse which (if any)of those misconceptions survive throughout KS4.

-What are misconceptions

People form their conceptions of the world and nature, which provide some explanations to commonly observed phenomena. People interpret the world that is received by their sensorial experiences in a way that makes sense for them. These interpretations may vary from person to person and usually they are simplistic and aren’t in agreement with the accepted scientific theories. They are called misconceptions. 

Some people argue that misconceptions would be better referred to as alternative conceptions or alternative frameworks. Whatever they are called, the problem is that they are usually inconsistent with the science taught at schools (DfES,2002).  This is a serious problems and the purpose of this study is to identify the most common misconceptions among students in a west sussex school . Also I will look at how long it takes for those misconceptions to disappear. Finally I will discuss strategies to eliminate them.

  Misconceptions are a serious problem because they are resistant to change, they are an obstacle for learning by understanding and they can even be dangerous: the famous picture of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity by playing with a kite that is hit by lightning during a thunderstorm is very common. There is a key that hangs on the wire, so that there are sparks between the key and the wire. Some people say that the key is what protects Benjamin Franklin from being electrocuted. Actually he would be burned rather than electrocuted. There were sparks between the key and the wire, but the phenomenon was caused by electricity induced in the wire by the highly charged clouds and not as a result of being hit by lightning. The misconception is very dangerous because it may suggest to pupils that they can play with kites during a storm and be safe.

Misconceptions are pervasive, and they are everywhere: they are on TV,  Hollywood films, textbooks and also in other pupils’ minds. Even teachers have their misconceptions.

The amount of misconceptions vary depending on the topic. Electricity , for instance, is a topic that is permeated by misconceptions. I included some questions about electricity in my form, but I avoided going into more complex ideas like alternate current because most pupil finds difficult. I focused on the idea of electrical energy as being different from electrical current, which is the misconception behind the common mistake of saying that current is used up as it goes round a circuit.
The word electricity causes confusion, as it may have multiple meanings 3, like voltage, current, electrical, energy, power, etc. If the word electricity is used by a pupil, it is a good idea to question exactly what he/she means by that.

Dealing with misconceptions is one of the hardest tasks in teaching. They must be removed as soon as possible, before they create deeper roots into the child’s cognitive structure. The development of strategies to identify and to tackle misconceptions is a crucial part of a scheme of work.

A pupil that hold misconceptions will have to unlearn them before he/she can learn things in the proper way. This unlearning process is often harder than the learning process itself. It requires a lot of skill on the part of the teacher to convince children to discard their views of nature and take on  his/hers. If pupils go straight into the learning process, without unlearning the misconceptions, the experience will be pointless and frustrating. The content will be forgotten soon and the misconceptions will grow deeper.