What we Know About What We, and They, Don't Know
Understanding Misconceptions: Teaching and Learning in Middle School Physical Science by Philip M. Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert
In this clear and compelling article, Philip Sadler and Gerhard Sonnert summarize their findings regarding the relationship between student learning in middle school science classrooms and their teacher's content mastery. Adding to the important work done in A Private Universe, these researchers also looked closely at the teachers' understanding of their students' misconceptions about the concepts they were teaching. Sadler and Sonnert meticulously created a comprehensive research protocol, whereby they could pinpoint the teachers' level of content knowledge and then they also distilled out the teachers' understanding of their students' misconceptions and how these impact the students' mastery and retention of the material. The teachers who were most aware of student misconceptions in areas where misconceptions are common were able to teach directly to those misunderstandings, thereby improving their students' test scores and mastery of the material. Though it may seem obvious that teachers must be grounded fully in their discipline to be effective instructors, this study reveals that many teachers have gaps in their content knowledge that have a clear effect on student learning and it outlines the strong positive effect of surfacing and then correcting student misconceptions. This research should galvanize administrators and faculty alike in terms of finding professional development in these areas, knowing that they have such a direct and immediate impact on student outcomes.