Scientific misconceptions are commonly held beliefs about science that have no basis in actual scientific fact. Scientific misconceptions can also refer to preconceived notions based on religious and/or cultural influences. Many scientific misconceptions occur because of faulty teaching styles and the sometimes distancing nature of true scientific texts.
Misconceptions (a.k.a. alternative conceptions, alternative frameworks, etc.) are a key issue from constructivism in science education, a major theoretical perspective informing science teaching. In general, scientific misconceptions have their foundations in a few "intuitive knowledge domains, including folkmechanics (object boundaries and movements), folkbiology (biological species configurations and relationships), and folkpsychology (interactive agents and goal-directed behavior)", that enable humans to interact effectively with the world in which they evolved. That these folksciences do not map accurately onto modern scientific theory is not unexpected. A second major source of scientific misconceptions are instruction-induced or didaskalogenic misconceptions.
There has been extensive research into students' informal ideas about science topics, and studies have suggested reported misconceptions vary considerably in terms of properties such as coherence, stability, context-dependence, range of application etc. Misconceptions can be broken down into five basic categories,(Alkhalifa ,2006) 1) preconceived notions; 2) nonscientific beliefs; 3) conceptual misunderstandings; 4) vernacular misconceptions; and 5) factual misconceptions (e.g., Committee on Undergraduate Science Education, 1997).
While most student misconceptions go unrecognized, there has been an informal effort to identify errors and misconceptions present in textbooks. The Bad Science web page, maintained by Alistair Fraser, is a good resource. Another important resource is the Students' and Teachers' Conceptions and Science Education (STCSE) website maintained by Reinders Duit. Another useful resource related to chemistry has been compiled by Vanessa Barker
In the context of Socratic instruction, student misconceptions are identified and addressed through a process of questioning and listening. A number of strategies have been employed to understand what students are thinking prior, or in response, to instruction. These strategies include various forms of "real type" feedback, which can involve the use of colored cards or electronic survey systems (clickers). Another approach is typified by the strategy known as "Just in Time Teaching". Here students are asked various questions prior to class, the instructor uses these responses to adapt his or her teaching to the students' prior knowledge and misconceptions.
Finally, there is a more research-intensive approach that involves interviewing students for the purpose of generating the items that will make up a concept inventory or other forms of diagnostic instruments. Concept inventories require intensive validation efforts. Perhaps the most influential of these concept inventories to date has been the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). Concept inventories can be particularly helpful in identifying difficult ideas that serve as a barrier to effective instruction. Concept Inventories in natural selection and basic biology have been developed.
Whilst not all the published diagnostic instruments have been developed as carefully as some concept inventories, some two-tier diagnostic instruments (which offer multiple choice distractors informed by misconceptions research, and then ask learners to give reasons for their choices) have been through rigorous development. In identifying students' misconceptions, first you can identify their preconceptions. "Teachers need to know students' initial and developing conceptions. Students need to have their initial ideas brought to a conscious level."
A number of lines of evidence suggest that the recognition and revision of student misconceptions involves active, rather than passive, involvement with the material. A common approach to instruction involves meta-cognition, that is to encourage students to think about their thinking about a particular problem. In part this approach requires students to verbalize, defend and reformulate their understanding. Recognizing the realities of the modern classroom, a number of variations have been introduced. These include Eric Mazur's peer instruction, as well as various tutorials in physics developed groups at University of Washington and the University of Maryland. Scientific inquiry is another technique that provides an active engagement opportunity for students and incorporates meta-cognition and critical thinking.
Success with inquiry based learning activities relies on a deep foundation of factual knowledge. Students then use observation, imagination, and reasoning about scientific phenomena they are studying to organize knowledge within a conceptual framework. The teacher monitors the changing concepts of the students through formative assessment as the instruction proceeds. Beginning inquiry activities should develop from simple concrete examples to more abstract. As students progress through inquiry, opportunities should be included for students to generate, ask, and discuss challenging questions. According to Magnusson and Palincsan, teachers should allow multiple cycles of investigation where students can ask the same questions as their understanding of the concept matures. Through strategies that apply formative assessment of student learning and adjust accordingly, teachers can help redirect scientific misconceptions.