Reflection: Student Communication The Mystery of the Romanovs - Section 3: Explore


As science educators in particular we have experienced how misconceptions can truly hinder the learning process in our classrooms. I have found that one of the most challenging aspects of student misconceptions is the tendency for students to interpret new experiences through their erroneous understandings, thereby interfering with properly integrating new information into their overall body of knowledge. I think this is what can make misconceptions so damaging and how a practice of avoiding direct confrontation or anticipation of where they may surface can make even the most well-designed unit or lesson lack luster! An experience I have had more often than I would like to admit.

In this lesson, students are able to surface their own misconceptions about a pretty well-known forensic technique and another that closely bears the same name however is inherently different. What I found difficult about surfacing and then debunking what the student "thought" they knew was that misconceptions tend to be very resistant to instruction because learning entails replacing or radically reorganizing student knowledge. This can put educators in the very challenging position of needing to bring about significant conceptual change in student knowledge BEFORE attempting to deliver new content. Oftentimes traditional forms of instruction are not very successful at overcoming student misconceptions unless they are used strategically for the purpose of surfacing and replacing misconceptions. That, fellow educators, is NOT easy! In this video clip, I attempt to discuss the very origin of a misconception as well as provide the students with an opportunity to analyze how the misinterpretation actually possesses some merit or "truth" which is why it is even more difficult to replace. 

In order to advance students’ understanding, we must address their prior conceptions with how the world works.  According to How Students Learn Science in the Classroom, (National Research Council, 2005), If students’ “initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom….New understandings are constructed on a foundation of existing understandings and experiences.”  If the teacher neglects to find out what ideas students already have, then there is the risk that any new information will be assimilated into their pre-existing framework—possibly perpetuating incorrect ideas and confounding future expansion of the intended learning concept.

In the video excerpt, I pose the question, "In what ways is DNA fingerprinting like actual fingerprinting and how is it different?" to serve as an exposing event that helps students become aware of their conceptions about specific topic. However, this is only one way to go about addressing student's misconceptions. Using analogies, modeling, metacognitive practices which get students to think about what they are thinking, and the inquiry-based 5E learning model are also effective instructional strategies that will enable students to surface and address misconceptions.

For more information on uncovering prior conceptions:

How Students Learn Science in the Classroom (Chapters 1, 10)

  Student Communication: Surfacing Misconceptions
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The Mystery of the Romanovs

Unit 6: DNA and Detectives: Applications of Genetic Testing
Lesson 1 of 7

Objective: The objective of this lesson is to begin our Genetic Testing Unit by creating simulations of the DNA fingerprints of various members of the Romanov family and then comparing and evaluating the DNA fingerprint patterns to establish family relationships.

Big Idea: How can the latest in gene identification technology be used to identify victims of a brutal crime as well as trace genetic disorders present in a family for generations?

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7 teachers like this lesson
Science, Biotechnology, Forensic Science, genetic testing, Bioethics, DNA Technology, Gel electrophoresis
  90 minutes
dna fingerprint
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