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Misconceptions and missing conceptions about the process of science

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This list was compiled by Anne E. Egger, Stanford University, as part of a collaboration between Visionlearning and the SERC Pedagogic Service, and includes the products of a July 2009 workshop on Teaching the Process of Science.

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Students hold a wide variety of misconceptions about the process of science that range from the nature of scientific knowledge to what scientists themselves are actually like. In addition, there are many aspects of the process of science that they know nothing about - they are missing conceptions about things like the role of the scientific community. The following list of student misconceptions and missing conceptions was compiled from comments submitted by college faculty and high school teachers who participated in the 2009 Process of Science workshop.

The overarching misconception that students hold is that science isn't a process at all - it's just a bunch of facts. But misconceptions fall into several categories, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:



The scientific method

The linear 4- or 5-step scientific process is drilled into many students starting at a young age. This generates many misconceptions, including:


The nature of uncertainty and change in scientific knowledge

This is a complex concept: that something can be both tentative but still be established knowledge, and that knowledge can change. Students hold many misconceptions about uncertainty, including:
They are often missing conceptions about:


The community of science and the role it plays

Regarding the role of the scientific community in the process of science, students are mostly missing conceptions about things like:
Undergraduate poster session

They also hold misconceptions about:


The nature of scientific theories

Misconceptions about the nature of scientific theories are rampant and well-known. These misconceptions include:


Who can do science

These misconceptions about their ability to do science can can prevent students from learning more about science or taking more science classes. These misconceptions include the ideas that:





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