An impact on future learning

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Science misconceptions can have an impact on future learning and development of Science for the child. Misconceptions are a term used in Science education when a child's ideas and belief in Science is different from the actual scientific concept. Misconceptions can happen in various ways and can be part of the process of children using previous learning and experience to understand the world around them. One of the challenges for educators is to challenge these misconceptions, as the child's ideas and beliefs can be resistant to change.

The senses are part of the experience and outcomes of the Curriculum for Excellence for Science. The sense of sight is an important concept for children to acquire and is therefore critical to address any misconceptions that may occur. In order to change ideas and beliefs and find ways to address misconceptions, there is a need to explore what people think and their reasons behind this. As a result, a small scale research project aims to explore the common misconception of "the idea that it is possible to see in the dark" (Naylor and Keogh, 2000 p12.1).


This research project will focus on a small scale survey of six adults and will aim to discover their level of understanding and knowledge of the concept of sight. The six adults were from a range of ages and there was an equal split of female and males.

The Semi- structured interview was chosen as the most appropriate method for research. This method gives the interviewer, the flexibility to ask further questions depending on the response from the interviewee. This will allow the interviewer to develop the responses from the interviewee, question the reason behind their answers and gain the level of their knowledge and understanding of the concept.

The interviews will be conducted as a telephone interview for time management and travel restrictions. Using the same method will allow for fair testing. A set of questions were tested and changed as appropriate. Each interviewee agreed to take part in the survey and gave permission for their responses to be used. Standard set of questions to be asked to all interviewees. (See appendix 1).

Results and analysis.

The findings showed that there was a range of ages that took part in the survey. Two thirds of the people surveyed answered question two correctly and stated that they would not be able to see anything within the cave. Therefore, they did not have hold the misconception about the dark. When giving their reasons behind their answer to question two, this entire group of people stated that they needed light to see. However, on further questioning on the use of a torch, many answered that the light shone on the object, and there was no mention of light reflecting off the object into the eye. Therefore although there was no misconception there wasn't the depth of knowledge and understanding of the vision concept.

One third of the people surveyed thought that they would be able to see in the cave. Therefore, they held the misconceptions about the dark. One person stated that the eyes would adjust to the dark, although they would not be able to see very much. Another thought that enough light would come from the entrance of the cave. On further questioning - that they would be deep inside the cave - still thought they would be able to see shadows.

Interestingly, the people in this group were both female and in the older range category and had some good qualifications with a science background. These findings for the above group could suggest that their Science education has never given them the opportunity to challenge and test their misconception beliefs and ideas. As a result their opinions and beliefs have remained throughout their life. Hence, there is need for educators today to address misconceptions and build the correct knowledge and understanding of the concept.

However, the findings showed that the younger age interviewees correctly responded to the question despite having no formal qualifications in science and hopefully this would suggest that Science teaching is already moving forward and addressing commonly held misconceptions.

Most of the interviewees responded that they felt that they had very little confidence in their Science knowledge and understanding. However, they did respond to further questioning that they had enjoyed Science in school and this was the same response for all range of ages. One comment added that they were sorry they had not continued with the subject at school. These findings may suggest that people do enjoy science as a subject although there could be a need for educators to increase the confidence of children's ability, knowledge and understanding of Science concepts.


The research findings have indicated that some people do have the misconceptions that you can see in the dark. They believe that the eyes will adjust to the dark and they will be able to see something. Nevertheless, this is not the scientific understanding; the eyes do need light to focus into the eye. In complete darkness there is no light available and therefore you cannot see anything.

The findings suggested that some people may have the opinion that the eyes will eventually adjust to the dark and you will be able to see something although not very much. This opinion may have developed due to a lack of experience of complete darkness. The iris (the colour part of the eye) does respond to a range of light which can enlarge or make smaller the pupils, depending on the amount of light entering the eye. "In dim light the iris contracts outwards, enlarging the pupil allowing more light in"(Wenham, 1995 p40). However, there still needs to be a source of light for the eye to see and in today's modern society with street lights at night there is usually a source of light.


The research has identified a common misconception held by adults and that this belief can last for a life time if not addressed. As educators, we have the opportunity to work with the children and change these ideas and beliefs at an early stage. In this research the aim was to explore the misconception of " be able to see in the dark" and will now discuss teaching strategies that may be able to help challenge this misconception.

One of the first strategies with any new topics is to find out what the children already know and the children's ideas on the topic. This will give the teacher an idea of the level of understanding and will illustrate any misconceptions that the children hold. The teacher can then encourage the children to challenge their own theories and put them to the test. Children will engage with learning and be more likely to change their ideas if they can explore and discover scientific understanding by themselves rather than just been told by their teacher.

Some "children will modify their experiment findings to accommodate their beliefs long before they will change their beliefs to fit the evidence" (cccc) This may be down to the stage of development of the child and their ability to work in abstract concepts. Therefore, teachers need to take the age and stage of development into consideration when planning lessons and investigations.

In order to encourage and develop conceptual understanding, children should develop scientific process skills. Harlen and Qualter (2004 p77) state the opinion that "Process skills involved at all stages have a crucial part to play in the development of ideas." The scientific process skills of observing, predicting, planning, collecting evidence, interpret evidence and comparing results with prediction will encourage children to reflect and may help children to change their ideas and accept the scientific concept. The teacher's role throughout this process is to scaffold the learning of new ideas and experiences by encouraging them to make links and suggest ideas that the children may have not considered.

A possible Science investigation that will help challenge the misconception of being able to see in the dark is to create situations with different levels of light intensity. The investigation will give children the opportunity to experience different levels of light increasing from a pitch black room and then introducing light slowly into the environment possible through the use of torches. The children will investigate if they can see different types of objects and materials in different light intensity. Following the scientific process, children should predict what objects they think they will be able to see before each investigation. Health, safety and phobias of the dark will have to be taking into consideration by the teacher when planning.

When assessing children's understanding of the concept, teacher should use the concept in different situation and recheck their understanding. This will identify any children who will need further teaching and support.

The following standard questions to be asked:

  1. What age range are you in: 16 - 19, 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 60+
  2. If you go deep into a cave and the battery on your torch runs out. Will you be able to see anything in the cave?
  3. Give a reason for your answer?
  4. Do you have any previous experience or qualifications in Science?
  5. How do you feel regarding the knowScience: Confident Fairly Confident Not very Confident No Confidence