Would I know a misperception if I saw it?

Thinking a lot about student misperceptions recently while actively measuring their prevalence in all my classes this semester.  Writing these thoughts up on this blog helps me to connect the thoughts I have in the fragmented time that I actually can focus on this sort of thing.  I am trying to read all of the references given by AAAS’s Project 2061 misperception database. (here)

From: “The effects of instruction on college nonmajors’ conceptions of respiration and photosynthesis”  Journal of Research in Science Teaching Volume 27, Issue 8, pages 761–776, November 1990


I would say that assuming that students who select these two options are completely naïve ignores the possibility that students are including “minerals” in their definition of food and that they have a typical lack of commitment to consistency in their answers that many novices have. By analogy, imagine a parent gets a survey from their child’s school district. They are not experts on early childhood education, and most likely do not perceive all or any of the value of the survey questions, much the same as students who can not perceive all or any value to the questions they get in class beyond it’s contribution to their grade. If that survey asks how much time your kids spend studying in front of the TV and you select “not at all” but then in another question it asks how much information  your child gets from watching tv shows and you select “sometimes”, those two are at odds to the person asking the question but might not be to the parent. It is possible that the parent has their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the question (“what exactly is meant by studying?”, for instance) that allows the “not at all” and the “sometimes” answers to be consistent with each other. It is also probable that, much like many non-majors students, the parents are not truly interested in the question to the point where they are going to carefully make sure that their answers are 100% consistent with each other. Like many students, parents are answering the questions because they know or feel they have to, and that motivation is going to affect whether they are completely committed to showing what they do and don’t know or believe.

Interesting to me how this resembles strands in a wonderful book I am reading on the importance of ignorance in scientific research, a book that if you have read this post down to here, you really should read. (link)  If one is trying to approach teaching and student learning in a scientific way, to what extent are we permanently ignorant of what a student is truly thinking and how committed to their answers they are?


About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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