AAS 195th Meeting, January 2000
Session 106. Education
Display, Saturday, January 15, 2000, 9:20am-4:00pm, Grand Hall

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[106.16] An In-Your-Face Approach to Student Misconceptions About Astronomy

N.F. Comins (Univ. of Maine)

The deep seated nature of misconceptions often requires drastic measures if they are to be successfully replaced. In this paper I report on the effects of asking misconception-based questions in an introductory astronomy class and encouraging students to answer them in writing. The questions are used to verify student attendance. Students are required to write the question on their attendance sheet, but they're not required to write the answer. Since I think up each question in that class, it serves to verify student attendance.

Students are told that most of the attendance questions are based on common misconceptions. They are assured that their answers will not be graded. Initially, many students are angry or annoyed at being asked such questions. Nevertheless, over 90 percent of the students answer them. I answer each question at the beginning of the next class. As the semester goes on students become more actively engaged in the discovery process that this questioning motivates. By the middle of the semester they are actively cheering or moaning when the answer is given.

Students eventually learn that their first answer is often going to be wrong. They then look for a plausible alternative, which is often also incorrect. While alternative answers are not always successful for them, students are at least opening to new possibilities. Besides helping students evaluate their prior beliefs, their answers have provided me with considerable insight into many common misconceptions. I present samples of responses to a variety of questions. At the end of the semester, students are asked to assess the value of being asked misconception-based questions. All 121 responses to this evaluation from the Fall 1998 semester were either positive or neutral.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: galaxy@maine.edu

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