Research School Network: Science at Meols Cop: Our Misconception Mission

Science at Meols Cop: Our Misconception Mission

by Research Schools Network
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Holly Walsh, a science teacher and Research Lead from Meols Cop Research School, describes the strategies their science department has been using to diagnose and address misconceptions, how they are continuing to address these and possible steps for the future. 

I’d rather not open with yet another description of the situation schools find themselves in, our fears about the future and the ever-widening gaps in our pupils’ knowledge due to home learning. We are educators; we get it. So, now what? 

Let me take you through our science department’s past, present & future and our story behind our Misconception Mission’. 

The Past

The Improving Secondary Science Guidance Report was released by the EEF, setting out seven evidence-based recommendations on effective secondary science teaching. As a department we looked at the accompanying audit tool and, using support from the Implementation Guidance Report, opted to focus on one recommendation: preconceptions and misconceptions.

EEF science summary of recommendations poster page 001

All pupils, regardless of subject, walk into your classroom with preconceptions. Children build their own understanding about the phenomena that they encounter daily through sensory experiences and social interactions. These self-constructed ideas may or may not align with scientific understanding and, if they do not, are called misconceptions. 

Firstly, we wanted to create a departmental culture of openly discussing our own misconceptions (to remove the fear’). As we teach out of specialism, we wanted to create a safe, supportive environment where we all, regardless of experience, could improve our subject knowledge. The idea evolved that misconceptions are absolutely everywhere, in all age groups, enveloping many different topics. General science misconceptions were casually discussed at lunch times. During departmental meetings more topic-specific misconceptions were shared. By keeping the chats informal, we avoided pressure or judgement on the other person’s subject knowledge.

Staff became comfortable with giving and receiving critique, knowing it was never personal. Indeed, we knew the entire department were on board when our WhatsApp group lit up with notifications sharing misconceptions during exam marking! 

Taking action in the classroom

With key stage 3, we came up with the idea of a Misconception and Modelling (M&M) lesson every fortnight. The first half of the lesson was a diagnostic multiple-choice quiz based off the current learning topic. A diagnostic question is when each possible incorrect answer is a common misconception. The second half of the lesson – the modelling – involved metacognitive talk regarding the incorrect thinking behind each answer. Pupils found it fascinating that we could predict’ their flawed thinking – But Miss, how did you know that’s what I thought?!”.The pupils then corrected their biggest’ misconception with comments like, I got this wrong because I thought… This is the right answer because…”. This misconception was then readdressed in a slightly different way a fortnight later, and the pupils could track whether they had fixed’ their error.

Diagnostic Question Example

For key stage 4, we opted for a slightly different path. After assessments we had a Dash It’ lesson. At the start of the lesson, there is a whole class feedback sheet projected on the board (template below) and the teacher discusses common mistakes the pupils have made on their assessment. Dash It” comes up when the pupil makes a silly mistake, normally linked to exam technique, and usually accompanied by a groan! 

We tracked their Dash It” score alongside their real score; we found certain pupils became more motivated seeing their could have’ Dash It score, especially if their real score disappointed them. The rest of the feedback lesson is spent drilling down into the misconceptions that have arisen in the class with pupils annotating their assessments.

Science Marking Crib Sheet
Misconception Examples

The Present

After the initial let’s just carry on and attempt to deliver normal lessons’ knee jerk reaction had subsided, we had to make some decisions. We did not want to sacrifice our Misconception Mission’ and start to simplify work; however, we understood something had to give. Put simply, we halved our lessons. This did not mean we lowered our expectations, but rather tried to avoid cognitively overloading our students. 

Whilst we are thoroughly committed to providing high quality learning to our pupils remotely, we also want these resources to be recyclable for the future. Reading that teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered, we trialled two different styles of home learning – booklets with carefully crafted content and questions, or PowerPoints with voice note explanations. 

Currently, we are assessing the merits of the two different styles, still a little tentative as to which one to proceed all in’ with. Both follow the same routine: retrieval questions at the start to secure fundamental knowledge – chunks of learning – then lots of questions (with answers provided) for self-assessment. The lesson then culminates in a diagnostic multiple-choice quiz on Microsoft Teams. When the pupil submits their quiz, for each incorrect answer their feedback is automatically generated. It contains feedback about the misconception and what their correct thinking should have been. Teachers can then give additional feedback or provide a video / live stream to further support. 

To finish each week’s learning, pupils complete a quiz marked by their teacher. This gives another opportunity for feedback, but also the chance for teachers to record the misconceptions pupils might have, so we can review them when the time is right.

The Future

We shall use our monitoring of pupil’s work during home learning to guide our initial lessons when back in school. We will have compiled new misconceptions that have arisen during marking and common misconceptions selected during the Microsoft Teams quizzes, so that we can address these as learning opportunities for us to build on together.

Very low stakes quizzes will be necessary at first to give feelings of success and build confidence, alongside plenty of diagnostic multiple-choice questions. Misconceptions will be shared rather than hidden and we have high expectations of using correct scientific language. Moving forward, home learning content will need to be secured by interleaving into lessons, where possible… paying particular attention to those sneaky misconceptions! 

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.

Helpful websites for diagnostic questions:

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