Addressing student misconceptions by explicitly discussing values

Thursday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Presentation Part of Teaching Controversial Topics


Michelle Selvans, Clovis Community College
Students bring misconceptions with them into Earth Science classrooms. By addressing incorrect beliefs, instructors give students the opportunity to build an understanding of course content from accurate axioms. One technique that helps correct misconceptions is to give students a chance to reason around those ideas using evidence they have gathered that does not support those particular claims. By scaffolding such experiences with an understanding of the process of scientific inquiry, students can have a chance to address their misconceptions from the perspective of being a scientist, rather than from a perspective of anxiety or embarrassment about having a 'wrong' idea. I pair this approach with another technique I have found to be at least as effective, and perhaps more engaging.

I borrow the 'beliefs and values' framing of my training in sociology, and ask students to think about content on this metacognitive level. Helping students distinguish between their beliefs (ideas about 'how things are') and values (ideas about 'how things should be') helps them to do two things. First, when it comes to a controversial Earth science topic (like 'fracking') they can more readily express both their understanding of how it works and their own opinion of it (in terms of societal impact, environmental impact, financial cost, etc.). Second, by being aware that belief is based on evidence and reasoning and values are based on ideals and morals, students can see clearly how the scientific process can address the former but not the latter. They come out of these experiences with a strong sense of their own opinions about societally relevant Earth science topics, and (more importantly in terms of course learning objectives) an understanding of content that can be articulated in terms of supporting evidence.