Perhaps I am Misguided?

An insightful email from Boris Korsunsky, a high school physics teacher,  just came through the PHYSLRNR mailing list. This excerpt (emphasis is mine) gave me pause:

Besides, even if the hypothetical professor is well-versed in PER [physics education research - ed.] and enthusiastic about teaching, what is important at the college level may not be nearly as important at the high school. Teaching K-12 is very different from teaching college – we deal with many more issues than student “misconceptions”; those of us who have kids at (or beyond) high school know that the academic success depends on much bigger factors than “misconceptions”: general happiness, work ethics, good family support, the intellectual culture at the school, etc. etc. – the factors beyond the purview of PER.

Is teaching high school really so different from teaching college, in this respect? I spend a lot of time trying to suss out the source of my students’ misconceptions. I think a lot of us who read the physics ed literature do. But that can’t be the whole story. These students are human beings, after all. That doesn’t automatically change when they go from high school to college. They have their own histories, their own stories about how they arrived at their personal ideas about how the world works. We often chalk it up to intellectual laziness (though we don’t call it that, usually), but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Many students are trained to “just get by” in a certain way before they get to college. We need to make them feel comfortable with an enormous degree of self-skepticism before they can confront their own misconceptions. I can’t imagine that this kind of reflection is easy for any of our students, especially the more mature ones. Of course, it’s what’s necessary for them to do good science. I’ve never really thought of the misconception problem this way, but it makes a lot of sense. Now: what do I do about it?


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