Children's Science Misconceptions
Mistaken Beliefs About Where Clouds Come From and Why It
Jun 1, 2008 David R. Wetzel
Clouds - MS Office
Children have a lot of misconceptions about science and unfortunately they
may get mistaken beliefs from adults. Eliminating misconceptions is critical for
Understanding why students do not understand science is an age old
question. Things seem so obvious, and yet when adults ask children, they
come up with some really interesting answers. Why, because they need to
experience real science experiments to find out the answers for themselves.
Children do not understand, because they are full of mistaken beliefs or
misconceptions about science facts. Where do they get these
misconceptions? They get them from their parents and other sources:
• Watching TV
• Watching Movies
• Playing Video Games
• Other Adults
Common Science Misconceptions
Here is an example misconception which even most adults get wrong when
asked. Which way does heat flow? Most everyone will say up! However this is
not correct, heat will flow in any direction, only hot air flows up.
How do you eliminate this misconception?
Simply place a pan of hot water on the table at home. Ask your child(ren) to
make a prediction about which way heat flows and remove the pan. Have the
child(ren) touch the table; they will quickly discover the table is warm. So how
can the table be warm if the heat rises? The answer is: Heat moves in any
direction which is colder than its present location.
Here is another question you can ask your child(ren). How are clouds formed?
Here are some typical answers you may hear:
• Clouds are formed by vapor from kettles
• Clouds are made of cotton, wool, or smoke
So where do they get these ideas, which are wrong? Again, they get them for
adults. For example the first one typically comes from parents when they refer
to the steam coming from a kettle as a steam cloud.
The second one comes from the way children construct clouds from cotton or
wool in art projects. They make an assumption these are what clouds are
made from in the sky.
This smoke idea is from science experiments which has children place a lit
match in a jar with water and close the lid. The match goes out and produces
smoke; they are told this is an example of how clouds are formed. See why
some children think clouds are smoke.
Even More Science Misconceptions
Try asking your child(ren) where rain comes from on a rainy day. Here are
some typical responses you may hear:
• Rain comes from clouds sweating
• Rain occurs when clouds are shaken
The first two come from traditional demonstrations of the water cycle in which
a large pan is filled with ice and placed over a boiling steam kettle on a stove
or hotplate. The hot water in the kettle is boiling producing steam (cloud from
above) which rises until it hits the bottom of the pan filled with ice.
The steam condenses when it hits the cold pan and turns into water droplets
on the bottom of the pan. When heavy enough they fall – rain. Sometimes you