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Pupil Misconceptions in Science

Discussion in 'Science' started by sheryl2632, Feb 19, 2008.

  1. Hi,

    i have to do a research proposal as part of my PGCE and although i know i want to research pupil misconceptions in science im not sure what the main ones are.

    i would be really grateful if people could let me know of any topic they have taught that the pupils have had trouble with. it can be any secondary school age.

    im in a 14-19 school at the minute.

    thank you for your time

  2. Hi,

    i have to do a research proposal as part of my PGCE and although i know i want to research pupil misconceptions in science im not sure what the main ones are.

    i would be really grateful if people could let me know of any topic they have taught that the pupils have had trouble with. it can be any secondary school age.

    im in a 14-19 school at the minute.

    thank you for your time

  3. The ASE books on teaching for non-specialists have sections on misconceptions and there is a really good book called "misconceptions in science" can't remember who by but full of ideas...

    I did an assignment on misconceptions for my PCGE and it turned out to be really interesting, I interviewed pupils using some picture and word prompts on cards (tree, crystal, biscuit...). I asked them things like what do you think this is made of? What do you think (answer) is made of and so on.. Why do you think it looks like that? The kids were great, I got loads of misconceptions (crystals are shiny because they grow in caves, which are dark, so they need to be shiny so you can see them..)

    Hope that helps!
  4. There is a *huge* amount of research literature in this area
    Try any books you can get hold of by Ros Driver, can't think of title off the top of my head, or look at Leeds uni faculty of education.
    I did a similar assignment, based on photosynthesis as there are tons of misconceptions about it. There are a huge number related to electricity and current/ voltage etc as well
    Even if they've previously done a topic, they may still have misconceptions as they can be very hard to shift.
  5. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    Monkey metal.

    Please do try to make use of capital letters OP, it makes it easier to take people seriously.
  6. Ros Driver's books are great but if you want to look at chemistry, Keith Taber wrote a good book (2000?) for the Royal Society of Chemistry which covered this. A copy of the RSC teacher-fellow books is sent to every secondary school so it should be in your school on a shelf somewhere...
  7. Thank you for all of your suggestions i will definitely have a look at those books.
  8. The KS3 initiative a few years ago produced masses of folders of information. Misconceptions was among the topics covered. I am sure your school will have them around.
  9. you can order the folders direct from the dfes. it was called pupil misconceptions in science, there is a lecturers and participants set. both really useful.
  10. silver2

    silver2 New commenter

    Commonly held misconceptions
    What do you think about science?
    For each of the statements below, show whether you
    agree ?
    disagree ?
    are not sure ?

    Plants? roots take in food from the soil.

    Water, carbon dioxide and light are plant foods.

    Plants breathe in oxygen at night, and carbon dioxide during the day.

    Plants photosynthesise but do not respire.

    An insect (such as a bee) is not an animal.

    Living things are made of cells which are as small as atoms.

    Atoms and animal cells are about the same size.

    Air does not weigh anything.

    Vacuums ?suck? in air.

    Sugar disappears when it dissolves.

    When ice is heated its particles melt.

    The space between particles is full of air.

    Particles in a liquid are smaller than a solid.

    When a car engine burns petrol it uses up energy.

    There are different forms of energy.

    Electricity gets used up as it goes around a circuit.

    Light travels further at night than in daytime.

    To keep an object moving a force must be kept on it.

    Objects stop moving when their force runs out.

    Cannot remember where I found these but it is a cool list
  11. silver2

    silver2 New commenter

    Identifying some misconceptions ? questions for
    Can you tell me what we mean by the word ?melting?? Leave the pupils to answer for a few minutes. If there is no response, ask, ?If I had a substance such as ice that is melting, what would be happening?? We are looking for a definition such as a solid turns into a liquid or a description that is equivalent to this. The interviewer can help at this stage by saying that some materials are solids, some are liquids and some are gases. Can you use the words solid, liquid or gas to tell me what melting is? Many pupils think that when a solid melts it loses mass/weight. Melting is often confusedwith dissolving.

    What is meant by the word ?evaporation?? The interviewer should use the same approach as for melting in question 1 above. Pupils need to understand about ?invisible? air, conservation of mass and atomisation before they can understand about evaporation. This could be extended by asking pupils what would happen to the temperature of boiling water if we continued to heat it.

    If something is said to have ?dissolved? what has happened? Is it the same as melting? Are there any differences between melting and dissolving? Can you describe what is happening to the particles in dissolving? If I dissolve 10g of sugar into 100g of water what will be the mass of the solution? Many pupils think that the sugar will
    have no mass when it is dissolved in water. Some pupils think that a gas is released during dissolving and so there is a loss of mass.

    These questions can be extended by asking what ?condensation? means or ?diffusion? for higher attaining candidates. Ask pupils why they see condensation on the outside of a cold can of drink. Pupils are often unclear that it is water vapour in the air that has condensed on the cold can.

    Have you heard about a substance called carbon dioxide? What sort of a substance is it? Do you know what it is made of? Do the words ?carbon dioxide? help you to know what it is made of? (A number of pupils know that it is carbon dioxide, but they do not know that ?di? means two.) Follow up with questions about carbon monoxide and then extend by asking them to predict what sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide would be made of.

    Ask, ?Do you know what gases make up the air? What is the percentage of the different gases?? Typically, pupils will say the air is about 50% oxygen and 50% carbon dioxide. Ask them about nitrogen and tell them oxygen is about 20?21% with carbon dioxide being about 0.04%. They are usually surprised by these figures.

    You can follow up the question about air by asking if we breathe in air with 20?21% oxygen and 0.04% carbon dioxide, what percentage of oxygen and carbon dioxide do we breathe out? Many pupils think that we breathe out no oxygen and a great deal of carbon dioxide. If they think this ask them, ?What happens when we give someone mouth to mouth resuscitation? If we breathed out no oxygen, would that help them?? Most pupils realise that we must breathe out some oxygen at this point. Tell them we breathe out about 16% oxygen and about 4% carbon dioxide.

    Ask pupils, ?What are the differences between an animal and a plant cell?? Ask them what is the function of the cell membrane and a cell wall. At higher levels ask why they think a red blood cell does not have a nucleus.

    Ask, ?What size is a cell compared to an atom/molecule?? Many pupils think that atoms/molecules and cells are the same size. They also confuse the two and think that chemicals associated with living things, e.g. proteins, are made from cells.

    Ask, ?Where does fertilisation happen in the human body?? There are many common errors in answer to this, e.g. in the cervix.

    . Ask pupils, ?How does a tree develop from a small seed? Where does all the wood come from? Does this have anything to do with carbon dioxide in air?? Often pupils
    think that the ?food? comes from the soil. It is counter-intuitive to think all that weight increase is linked to a gas.


    Ask pupils to show what forces are acting on a ball that has just been thrown by somebody and while the ball is in mid-air. It is best to do this by asking them to draw a diagram. Pupils might think that gravity only acts when the ball falls and stops when it hits the ground, or that both gravity and weight make the ball fall, or that it fell because it is not being supported.

    Draw a simple 2D diagram of the earth and show them a drawing of a stick person holding a plumb line with a ball at the end. Ask pupils to draw the stick person on the earth at 12 o?clock, 3 o?clock, 6 o?clock and 9 o?clock. This illustrates what a pupil?s understanding of down is. Extend by asking pupils to draw the same thing but for the moon or another planet. Pupils often think that gravity only relates to the
    earth because they associate gravity with air, so if there is no air there is no gravity!

    Ask pupils, ?Why does a ball stop rolling along the ground?? Many pupils think that movement stops because the ball runs out of force.
    15. Show pupils a book resting on the table and ask if there are any forces acting in it. Many pupils think that if there is no movement there is no force.

    Ask pupils, ?Does gravity act on a submarine?? It is often thought that there is no gravity in water and that is why things float. Pupils might think that gravity will only act when the submarine is above the water.


    Ask pupils to draw a simple series circuit with a cell, a motor, a switch and two lamps. Ask them to draw a parallel circuit with the same symbols but the bulbs in parallel. Ask pupils about the brightness of the bulbs. Some pupils think that the bulb nearest the battery will be brightest. Ask pupils to draw arrows to show the flow of the current. Ask pupils if the current is the same all the way round the circuit. Many pupils think that current is used up in a circuit.

    . Ask pupils what would happen if a knot was tied in a wire or if two wires were connected from either side of the battery to the bulb. Some pupils might think that a knot would prevent the flow of electricity or make it intermittent. Some might think that more wires will mean more electricity flow.

    This was published on the head of science development material - I have found it very useful
  12. I had a year 8 last week who was really struggling with the idea of sound being carried by electric wires.

    We had just made "coke can" telephones to show how the sound is carried through a solid, but only if it is free to vibrate, and I think he had extended this thought.

    Fo the life of hime he could not understand whey the wires into a loudspeaker were not vibrating when it made a sound.
  13. wire247

    wire247 New commenter

    Sound is not carried by electric wires.

    Should we have a thread on teacher misconceptions.
  14. sheryl you're a goddamn genius, just thought that i can ask on here and you beat me to it!! confiscated four carrits today, (see main board) you coming for our 'let it out' sleepover tomorrow???
  15. meant carrots!!
  16. Although I can appreciate the seriousness of this thread, I cannot help repeating for you two pupil "misconceptions" gleaned from the Yr 9 SATS papers a year or so ago:

    You can tell a male from a female deer as the male has antelopes on its head.
    Temperature is measured with a "Temperature Teller"
    Tell that to Harry Potter!

  17. ONE

    Pupil: "Chickens are mammals"

    teacher: "Why do you think that?"

    Pupil: "Chickens have breasts sir!"

    TWO (Same pupil BTW, whilst doing a lesson on animal classification to correct above misconception)

    Pupil: Penguins are fish because they can swim!

    Nuff Said.

  18. zedly

    zedly New commenter

    I had an interesting conversation with year 7 pupils yesterday.... (slightly younger than you asked for but it made me smile!)

    talking about particles and solids. One girl thought that a mountain was made from snow, which she wasn't sure if snow was a solid or liquid!! When I asked the class what was underneath the snow one young man said a rock that someone put there!! I then told them mountains where natural and formed over many years... But get this.... The same girl told me that pyramids in Eygpt are natural and they just appeared at some time!"!! I'm very worried about what parents tell their darling children at home!!! I'm dreading sex ed with them!!

    Year 9 girl also told me today that all babies start off as girls and only some grow 'willies!!' HELP!!

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