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Article

Influenced by Piagetian and Vygotskian research, science educators in the 1970s started to pay attention to students’ ideas in science. They discovered that students had deeply held beliefs that were in conflict with scientific concepts and theories. In addition to misconceptions, other terms such as preconceptions, alternative frameworks, and intuitive beliefs or theories have been used to characterize these ideas. One of the first interpretations of misconceptions is that they are faulty intuitive theories, which must be replaced by the scientifically correct ones. Another dominant interpretation is that they represent category errors—concepts assigned to the wrong ontological category. Both of these views proposed that refutation and cognitive conflict are instructional strategies that can be used to extinguish misconceptions. A different approach to misconceptions is expressed by researchers who argue that misconceptions have their roots in productive knowledge elements. According to this view, misconceptions are productive in some contexts but not appropriate in others and in these latter cases more carefully articulated scientific knowledge is necessary. Yet other researchers argue that misconceptions are often hybrids—constructive attempts on the part of the students to synthesize scientific information with intuitive beliefs and theories. Recent research has shown that misconceptions are not supplanted by scientific theories but coexist with them even in expert scientists. As a result, attention in science instruction has shifted from attempts to extinguish misconceptions to attempts to strengthen students’ epistemic knowledge, and their model building, hypothesis testing, and reasoning skills. Cognitive conflict and refutation continue to be important instructional strategies not for extinguishing misconceptions but for creating awareness in students that their beliefs are not accurate from a scientific point of view. Overall, the discovery of misconceptions has had a tremendous influence in science education research and teaching because it demonstrated that students are active and creative participants in the learning process and that their ideas and understandings need to be taken into account in instruction.

Article

Lucia Mason

Individuals of all ages have misconceptions about phenomena of the natural and physical world. They may think, for example, that summer is hotter because the Earth is closer to the Sun, and it is colder in winter because the Earth is farther away from the Sun. This explanation is not compatible with the scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Scientific learning often implies the revision of naïve conceptions, or conceptual change, which is not a quick and easy process. Researchers have addressed the question of the nature of conceptual change in terms of what the acquisition of new science knowledge entails when students hold misconceptions and need to revise their mental representations. Various approaches have been proposed to account for the mechanisms that underlie conceptual change and to draw implications for teaching and learning processes. For some decades conceptual change was only examined from a purely cognitive perspective (“cold” conceptual change), while more recently motivational and emotional aspects (“warm” conceptual change) have received attention. Research findings indicate that individual differences in misconceived prior knowledge, along with differences in achievement goals, self-efficacy, interest, and epistemic beliefs, as well as differences in the emotions experienced in learning contexts, are all associated with conceptual change. More recently, research has challenged the idea that misconceptions disappear permanently after conceptual change has taken place. Previously acquired, incorrect information still competes with the newly acquired correct information. The executive function of inhibition seems to be involved when naïve and scientific conceptions co-exist in the learner’s memory and the latter is used to produce a correct answer. Further research is needed on the role of inhibitory control in relation to learning concepts and affective states during scientific learning.