Research School Network: A Reflection on our Meols Cop Misconception Mission

A Reflection on our Meols Cop Misconception Mission

by Meols Cop Research School
on the

Holly Walsh, a science teacher and Research Lead from Meols Cop Research School, reflects on how the science department are addressing misconceptions now in-school teaching has resumed, and ways forward in these uncertain times.

During lockdown I wrote a blog about our department’s Past, Present and Future – I’m very lucky to be in a department that is comfortable with discussing and addressing their own and pupils’ misconceptions; but as always, we need to look ahead.

Referring again to the Improving Secondary Science Guidance Report, maybe preconceptions and misconceptions are as important as ever. According to the report, the evidence suggests focusing on:

Understanding the preconceptions that pupils bring to science lessons (preconceptions being previously held ideas a pupil has based on their experiences)
Develop pupils’ thinking through cognitive conflict and discussion
Allow enough time to challenge misconceptions and change thinking (misconceptions being incorrect thinking)

Even more so now, language is extremely important. With some pupils being taught remotely from home, there is an increased risk of them embedding and/​or reinforcing misconceptions. If teachers are choosing to do live’ lessons, there is an extra need for explanations to have clarity, and subject knowledge to be specific and succinct. This is made even harder if teaching isn’t face-to-face; those subtle cues you’d automatically get from the class are now virtual, and any cold call questioning that may normally be your routine has the awkward delay of the pupil having to unmute’ themselves (or even worse, they’ve dialled in to your lesson but may have vanished…!)

To add even more complexity to our new way of teaching – has anyone spotted any different thinking or misunderstandings specific to Covid-19? For example, a previous tier 3 word pandemic’ seems to have been upgraded to tier 2, possibly tier 1! Without upsetting ourselves with the media using incorrect language implying the virus is alive’ (and other fake news), have we found we’re having more conversations about infection and transmission, only to realise there is a whole undercurrent of incorrect thinking we’d never even thought of?

As before, in our department we continue to informally discuss both our and student misconceptions, and track any common themes centrally. Whilst riddled with its own misconceptions, there have been unpredictable benefits to students being aware of the current situation. On a recent learning checkpoint a 6 mark question about Gonorrhoea scored higher marks than usual as students referred to informing sexual partners’ of the disease… when questioned, they said it’s just like Track and Trace, isn’t it?” But with the advantages seems to be more challenges. When assessing a diagram about convection, many pupils referred to ventilation’. Maybe this previous tier 2/3 word is being used in everyday language without the meaning being completely explained. So is there a light at the end of this tunnel?

It is clear explanations need to be carefully planned, possibly scripted, so new knowledge can be acquired without introducing incorrect thinking. This may require multiple examples so pupils can build their schema, and modelling of different processes and skills. Just like with pupils interpreting the news they hear around them in incorrect ways, using analogies and stories to aid teaching may introduce misconceptions. So let’s keep it simple:

1. Predict and plan for misconceptions

– talk with your department, share experiences, note down previous misconceptions if you’ve taught this topic before.

2. Gather preconceptions before you start the topic
– there are more than you think! Use mind maps to collate student thinking.

3. Use models and examples
– choose these wisely, openly address if there are problems with the model.

4. Address misconceptions via feedback
– use diagnostic questioning to assess learning to…

5. Decision time!
Do you need to reteach a concept?

Meols Cop Research School is always happy to support other schools. If you would like to talk to a member of the Science department about this work, please email walsh‑ or tweet @HollyWalshSci

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