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There have been more advances in human knowledge in the last 100 years than in all of time up until then, and that process is exponential. It is thus not surprising that most of what is taught and understood about our world in schools today is either wrong or outdated 1)

There is strong evidence that, for most students, despite all of the excellent education they receive at school, university and in their chosen vocations, the same misconceptions that students bring to primary school are retained until the day that they die.

Harvard Graduates Explain The Seasons:

Video 1. Harvard Graduates Explain The Seasons (short)

Or, watch the full version here:


  1. Association of Science Education: Misconceptions & Naive Ideas of Children
  2. University of Bristol Primary Science - Misconceptions
  3. Ohio State University - Nature Misconceptions: Misconceptions About Nature
  4. The Association For Science Education: Science Misconceptions
  5. Teachers responded very negatively to an attempt to find participants for observations in teaching 'Electricity' They were not willing to be observed while teaching this topic. Most of them said “I would not feel comfortable so I would prefer to be observed while teaching something else”. ‘Plants and Animals’ was the preferred topic.

More than 200 authoritative references to misconceptions in primary school students:


Bats Are Blind

Most of what you thought you knew about bats is probably wrong. Bats are not ugly or dirty. Most bats have very cute faces and spend a lot of time grooming.

Bats are not blind. Most bats can see as well as humans. Fruit bats have eyesight that is adapted to low-light, much like cats. Fruit bats also see in colour.

This means that almost all bats have reasonable eyesight. Bats also have excellent night vision. Fruit bats use their eyesight and sense of smell to find fruits and flowers.

Check out lost more surprising stuff here: https://batworld.org/myths_facts_page/

Bats that hunt insects, fish, or frogs primarily use a form of sonar to navigate through dark areas and avoid obstacles. They “see” using echolocation.


Many people think bats are blind, but in fact they can see almost as well as humans. However, at night, their ears are more important than their eyes - they use a special sonar system called 'echolocation,' meaning they find things using echoes.

Rainforests & Oxygen

Rainforest use up almost all of the oxygen that they produce - They do not contribute significant amounts of oxygen to the global pool (the often-quoted, wrong amount is 20%). See the mathematics and more. Rainforests are important for other reasons.

Does Grass Alone Produce Enough Oxygen For Life?


Misconception: Bees are hard workers. Not all bees are hard workers. Honey bee, bumble bee and stingless bee worker bees do (females) work very hard. However, many males don’t do any work in the nest. Females of the solitary bee species may only work for a couple weeks throughout their lives.

Also, the next time someone tells you a bee shouldn't be able to fly, you should inform them that this is merely a myth perpetuated by popular culture. In reality, bees simply create mini-hurricanes wherever they go, which is a lot easier to get your head around!

OSU.EDU Nature - Beyond Penguins & Polar Bears:

General, Forces and Motion, Electricity, Astronomy

Misconceptions or Alternative Conceptions?

“The use of the word 'misconception' lends a heft to the student's thinking that just may not be there. What and how they think is highly plastic and often only codified by researchers: the more subtle amongst them acknowledge that these thought patterns are transitory, often heavily influenced by context and do not seek the coherence that formal study seeks to bring. That's why the Wrong Track / Right Lines dichotomy evolved. Nothing is yet fixed. Students are just passing through. 'Conceptions' is a rather overblown term to codify the halting pointing, mumbling and incomplete gesticulating … Not that it's wrong; just that you need to bear in mind, not only that large numbers of people might seem to think in a particular way, but also that that given a slightly different set of clues, they'll seem to be thinking in an entirely different way.” Ian Lawrence (iop: talkphysics.org) 2)

Ways to probe pupils’ ideas

Elicitation questions are used in schools to probe children’s understanding. It is worth while getting your trainees to try the questions themselves – if they do happen all to agree, and you are happy with their responses, they can be asked to predict what pupils of various ages might say. If they disagree it is a chance to sort out their own misconceptions.

The university of Gloucestershire (GITEP Scheme) uses a set of such questions at (group) interview. The purpose here is not so much to test applicants’ knowledge as to judge the quality of their explanation and listening skills. The group of three or four interviewees will argue for their answer, but will be persuaded by others’ answers. Do they appreciate the grains of understanding in others? Can they see the conflicts in their own point of view? It tests both their listening skill and their ability to explain. See chapter 5 of Ross et al for a further set of questions with a commentary.

The full set of questions is available from ESCalate.

Perhaps the most useful source of questions, with a commentary, is Concept Cartoons. (Naylor and Keogh 2000). See the full details of both their web-based and book-based http://www.conceptcartoons.com/. For Key stage three the Strategy has produced some resources relating to misconceptions (Most schools will still have these materials). This is also available as download 3.0b 'KS3 Strategy on misconceptions'.

The research on misconceptions was reviewed in Driver et al 1994, and although this is nearly 15 years old, it is still an important reference source of naïve ideas which teachers need to look out for. For a review, and details see this link. On the primary front the SPACE project provides a similar comprehensive review of children’s ideas. This is also available as download 3.0c.

The PowerPoint in download 3.0d is used by GITEP in Gloucestershire, for both primary and secondary trainees, to alert them to known misconceptions and to illustrate techniques to probing children’s ideas. You will need to download the two mp3 sound files into the same folder as the PowerPoint file in order for the sound to play.

  Download P4.1_3.0a 'Interview elicitation questions' 
  Download P4.1_3.0b 'KS3 Strategy on misconceptions' 
  Download P4.1_3.0c 'The SPACE reports' 
  Download P4.1_3.0d 'Children's Ideas' 
  Download P4.1_3.0e 'ice cream elicitation' 
  Download P4.1_3.0f 'wax is fireproof'

Source: Misconceptions & Naive Ideas of Children

Evolution - A One Minute History of The Physical Universe

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