New misconceptions collection - Earth and Space!

Identifying, addressing and challenging misconceptions held by students is essential to teaching physics well. Former physics teacher Jessica Howell manages the IOPSpark Misconceptions resources and explains how they can help in the classroom.

A central purpose of physics education is to develop students’ understanding of the most fundamental explanations for how the universe behaves. Despite a teacher’s best efforts to nurture this, students sometimes do not grasp certain ideas in physics.

Decades of research has delved into students’ thinking around these ideas that are likely due to existing misconceptions. Notably, Rosalind Driver suggested that students form their understanding of the world through observations and experiences, making a model of misconceptions for their world that is based on common sense but is not always correct (Driver, R et al. 1994). Furthermore, Schaefer stated that if the ideas taught at school are not related to students’ everyday lives, they may not grasp the concepts properly and instead just learn isolated ‘packages’ of information (Schaefer, 1979 in Cimer, 2007). Therefore, students must become unsatisfied with their prior theories and be open to viewing the world in a different, sometimes analogical way (Nussbaum and Novick, 1982; Posner, Strike, Hewson, and Gertzog, 1982; Driver et al, 1996 in Cimer, 2007).

Today, a key part of teaching physics involves identifying, addressing, and challenging misconceptions or incorrect theories that students hold. To make this less timeconsuming in lesson preparation, the Practical Implications for Physics Education Research (PIPER) team have been reviewing the literature and compiling a list of common misconceptions complete with diagnostic questions and resources to address the idea.

Earth and Space misconceptions

Recently published, examples from our newest collection include:

  • Most pupils think that it is cold in the winter because the Sun is further away from the Earth
  • Some pupils think that all stars are the same size
  • Some younger pupils may hold the belief that the Sun travels around the Earth
  • Some pupils have ideas that the Sun gets covered and that is what causes night

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