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How to Overcome Misconceptions


Teachers may find it difficult to overcome student misconceptions, since students often try to fit new ideas into the faulty framework they possess, which is caused by the persistence of misconceptions. In order to effectively teach students, educators must help students to overcome their misconceptions by diagnosing the misconceptions, creating dissatisfaction with the misconceptions, and providing opportunities to practice the goal conceptions [5]. Traditional methods of instruction (eg. class-long lecturing) are not sufficient in overcoming student misconceptions [19,21,23].

Most science faculty take their teaching seriously but have little or no background in the pedagogical issues of science education at the university level. This problem is compounded by the limited time that most faculty can devote to exploration of the science education literature for new approaches to teaching. In addition, faculty often do not have time to ferret out the misconceptions of students and develop ways to challenge those, both of which are quite time-consuming tasks. Consequently, few faculty deliberately identify and challenge such misconceptions, even though there is a proven framework for that. That framework is the 5E teaching cycle [6].

5E Method of instruction:

In 1989 the Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS) group developed the 5E Model of instruction. The 5E cycle 1) focuses on major misconceptions, 2) begins with an 'engage' phase that requires active participation by students, 3) moves to additional phases that develop and expand the information and ideas, 4) but with much of the articulation done by the students, and 5) ends with an 'evaluate' phase that emphasizes student synthesis and/or application, plus self-assessment, more than grade reports.

The 5E learning/teaching cycle is based on the interactive exploration of a concept. During this investigation, students build on former concepts in order to place the new ideas into their working framework of knowledge. The cycle part of this method refers to the need to revisit misconceptions and reinforce conceptions within a course and across courses (or grade levels), which is necessitated by the difficulty in displacing misconceptions. Once the new concept is in place, it can then be used as the foundation for learning new concepts. Given this continual building of the knowledge framework, the problem of persisting misconceptions becomes very clear. If a student's knowledge and future learning is based on the validity of their previous learned concepts, and one (or more) of those concepts is faulty, then the student may have difficulty learning new information.

The 5 E's of the model are: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.


During this stage, the instructor piques the student's interest in the subject matter by asking questions, providing an interesting or unusual event, and/or providing discrepant events. This is not the time to explain or define concepts, provide answers, or lecture. The point of this stage is to generate enough interest in the subject at hand to propel the student into the learning process, which follows with the remaining stages. A key to successful 5E cycles is the 'engage' phase, which whenever possible makes use of 'discrepant events'. For large enrollment lecture courses, it is much easier to conduct classroom demonstrations that provide challenges to misconceptions in physics and chemistry than it is in biology, especially in ecology and evolution. However, discrepant events can be done via analogies that make use of simple, inexpensive manipulative [12,22], or analogies or real events that can be shown in 2-5 minute video-clips.


In the explore stage, students have an opportunity to work through the problem to become familiar with it by using some hands-on model, discussion, or logical thought processes. Instructors here can ask directing questions, provide minimal consultation, and observe and listen to student interactions.

Instructors should not provide answers, critique students, or lecture extensively. The focus of this component is for the student to become familiar with the workings of the problem and generate further interest in the subject.


During the explaining stage, students will begin to use and understand the correct terminology surrounding the subject. Students are formally provided with definitions, explanations, and relationships as they pertain to the concept. Students may still be encouraged to work with hands-on materials, and participate in group work and class discussions. Instructors should not introduce unrelated material, but should correct misconceptions (alternative conceptions).


In this stage, students use what they have learned to solve the initial question, as well as others that are similar in nature. During this stage, students should be able to use the concepts introduced during the Explain stage to solve new problems. Instructors should listen for the correct concept and vocabulary usage, and provide directive questions.


During this stage, instructors can assess their students' ability to use the concepts correctly. This may be done through a variety of processes (e.g. tests, interviews, observations, capstone projects, etc.). Alternatively, students can assess their own progress via a self-evaluation. Teachers should avoid testing for isolated facts, but rather they should ask questions that determine if students can discuss and apply the concepts covered.


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Last Updated: 1/28/15