Ohio Resource Center

Common Student Misconceptions

Misconceptions, also referred to as naïve conceptions, are ideas students have about scientific concepts that are not scientifically accurate or are incomplete. These scientifically inaccurate conceptions are often retained after instruction and into adulthood. The misconceptions identified here may relate to content taught in earlier grades. The resources recommended should be incorporated into instruction in a way that is developmentally appropriate and that corrects misconceptions as a part of standards-based instruction.

 Misconception ORC Resources That Address the Misconception Quest 1: Motion and Forces Speed and velocity are the same thing. Teacher Tips:Have students walk at a steady speed for a measured straight-line distance while timing themselves. Have students describe their motion in terms of speed. Then have students repeat the activity, but this time going alternately faster and slower and describe their motion in terms of speed, positive acceleration, and negative acceleration. Introduce the concept of velocity and have students describe their steady-speed walk in velocity terms. Weight and mass are the same thing. Teacher Tips:Hang a mass on a string. Pushing it sideways illustrates mass. Lifting it illustrates weight. Any small force can move the mass sideways. However, a force at least equal to the weight must be applied to lift it. All forces that act upon an object to alter its position, shape, or velocity are contact forces. Teacher Tips:Have students observe the effects of “field forces.” These include the force of gravity, magnetism, and electricity. One example for electricity is hanging a pith ball from a string and placing positively or negatively charged rods near (but not touching) it. Any force causes an object to accelerate. Teacher Tips:One simple demonstration is to have a student push against a wall. The wall does not accelerate. A position–-time graph or velocity–time graph traces the motion of an object. An object moving at a constant velocity has no forces acting on it. Teacher Tips:Use a car on a freeway as an example. The car can move at a constant velocity only if a force is applied. Quest 2: Work An object is weightless in outer space. Teacher Tips:If the object is orbiting the Earth, ask students what force holds the object in orbit. The acceleration due to gravity is stronger for heavier objects. In gravitational situations between objects, the Earth pulls on an object, but the object does not pull back on the Earth. Teacher Tips:This is difficult to demonstrate. A student must first truly believe that Newton’s third law exists. If a convincing case is made for Newton’s third law then the object pulling on the Earth follows. Work doesn’t require movement of objects. Potential energy is always gravitational. Teacher Tips:Demonstrate other types of potential energy such as that in elastic or springs. Quest 3: Space The mass of a satellite affects the speed it must travel to maintain a specific orbit. Teacher Tips:Mathematically demonstrate that the mass of the satellite cancels. In our solar system, the planetary orbits are circles. Teacher Tips:Use a computer simulation to demonstrate planetary orbits. Quest 4: Matter Gases do not have weight Quest 5: Heat We are running out of energy. Energy is lost or destroyed in many processes on Earth. Teacher Tips:Have students track energy transformations in daily life. Quest 6: Waves A wave’s amplitude affects its speed. Teacher Tips:Have students use Slinky toys to disprove this conception. Quest 8: Light Waves Light is not a form of energy because it does not “do work on” objects. Teacher Tips:Discuss what happens to objects that absorb solar energy. Atoms and molecules are “pushed,” thereby gaining kinetic energy. Inherent colors of objects cannot be changed. Teacher Tips:Involve students in an activity with Doppler shift and then relate that to redshift and blueshift.