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About Misconceptions

Regardless of the age and background of people, they will have misconceptions in biology [4, 14, 16, 17, 20, 25]. Misconceptions are scientifically inaccurate assumptions and explanations of phenomena, which are constructed by an individual through his/her experiences [9,14, 17]. Misconceptions have also been called 'preconceptions' [18], 'alternative frameworks' [11], 'alternative ideas' [3], and 'children's science' [13].

Little is known about misconceptions that exist in the field of ecology. In fact, relatively few papers have been published that cover general pedagogical issues in ecology. For example, D'Avanzo surveyed articles published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching from 1997-2002, and found 33 papers concerning teaching physics, 21 for chemistry, and 19 for biology [9]. Only seven of these biology papers covered ecological topics. The number of publications that deal with the misconceptions of ecology is fewer still. Munson's review of ecological misconceptions covers relatively few concepts as compared to what has been covered of the physical sciences [17].

To get a feel for some of the most common misconceptions in ecology, take the Self-Test. You may find that, among the wrong answers, there are some ideas that you once held as truths, or may have heard as truths from other people. Also, see the list of Common ecological misconceptions.

Is it necessary to dispel students' ecological misconceptions? Yes, the dispelling of ecological misconceptions is important to understanding and being able to make decisions that impact the lives of the students. Misconceptions are prevalent in the sciences, where they are particularly troublesome. Since science is based on the validity of previously determined ideas, the persistence of a misconception within the logic of an argument may have the cascading effect of the creation of several false conclusions. Misconceptions involving ecological phenomena are particularly important to overcome, because ecology teaches students how they are influenced by, and have influence on, the ecosystems and the biosphere [9,15]

Although scientific literacy should increase as students take science courses, it is common for students to retain misconceptions [4,14]. Biology conceptions are often far more difficult for students to grasp than biologists imagine [4]. Furthermore, misconceptions are highly resistant to change and, consequently, traditional teaching is seldom effective [4, 7, 8, 15, 17]. Naïve and "magical beliefs" act like filters and so can allow disconnected facts and ideas through, but block out a deeper understanding of methods and world-view [1].

Overcoming misconceptions is crucial to student learning. When misconceptions are challenged directly and students provided with opportunities to re-construct their world-view, the proportion of students able to use science conceptions to explain phenomena increases significantly [4]. Find out more at How to overcome misconceptions.

One of the best ways that students can learn course material is by placing the concepts into a framework that tells a story. When instructors present ecological concepts in the context of a larger picture, students are more likely to learn and retain the information presented [24]. Learn more about and view course materials for the Power of Story.


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Last Updated: 1/28/15