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Understanding Misconceptions: Teaching and Learning in Middle School Physical Science


"Everybody wants teachers to be knowledgeable. Yet there is little agreement on exactly what kinds of knowledge are most important for teachers to possess. Should teachers have deep knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching, gleaned from college study, additional graduate courses, or even research experience? Do they need to understand how students typically think when they approach a problem or theory? Is there some optimal combination of these different types of knowledge?

Researchers have long speculated that a teacher's knowledge of common student misconceptions could be crucial to student learning. This view recognizes that learning is as much about unlearning old ideas as it is about learning new ones. Learners often find it difficult to change their misconceptions, since these are ideas that make sense to them. Some researchers advocate, therefore, that teachers should know common student misconceptions for the topics that they teach, and others suggest that teachers interview or test their students to reveal student preconceptions early on in the learning process. Yet the research falls short in assessing teachers' knowledge of particular student misconceptions and the actual impact of this knowledge on student learning."