The Importance of Being Wrong

I was let in on a conversation concerning how a certain teaching strategy builds on successes of students in generating scientifically accurate ideas rather than identifying their misconceptions, confronting them, and then resolving (the strategy doesn’t matter – I really like the strategy anyway). The argument was that the “elicit-confront-resolve” methods can overwhelm students with feelings of failure. I see their point. However, I did a lot of “elicit-confront-resolve” in my teaching so had to think about my rationale. After some thinking, I believe I’ve generated some food for thought.

If we do not elicit and confront students’ naive ideas to what extent will they maintain them?

What if we are helping students build accurate models for school use, but their naive views remain intact? When in the “real world” students rarely consider their “school learning” they immediately go to their gut feelings. If we don’t confront these gut feelings in order to change them, we help students develop a “school-science worldview” rather than a useful scientific worldview,. I would like my students to look up at the moon at night (or day) in the summer, away from school, and understand how the perceived shape is caused by our place/perspective in space, not by the Earth’s shadow. Meaning, I want students’ naive ideas to go away, not coexist with scientific ones.

Additionally, the confrontation of naive ideas is a very good lesson in and of itself. I want students to know that being wrong is an important part of learning. Furthermore, I don’t want them to think science is just a process of continually affirming accurate ideas. I want them to understand how to negotiate inaccurate ideas. If we never teach students how to identify and negotiate inconsistencies, we have perhaps stroked their ego, but not done as much as we could to prepare them to be independent learners.

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One Response to The Importance of Being Wrong

  1. I don’t disagree with being wrong, and I use it from time to time. However, there are some programs like Physics by Inquiry that use it nearly 100% of the time. I think that can work well with adult learners who already know that they can do/learn science (like science teachers) but not with kids.

    Like all good teaching, I think variety is the key. When kids are confident that they can do science (by creating a learning environment that set them up to be right), I think students are then more likely able to be comfortable about being wrong — and I think they are more likely to seek out a resolution with more enthusiasm rather than despondence.

    Thanks for the push-back!

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