Given that students learn by discovering that their preconceptions are wrong and need to be revised, we may be severely limiting their opportunities for learning if we have no sense of what they know coming into our classroom. Tanner writes that “explicitly uncovering and addressing students’ prior and alternative conceptions in biology is essential if students are to integrate new ideas into existing conceptual frameworks about how the natural world works as a result of instruction.” Those “prior and alternative conceptions” become a road map for faculty members — a guide to which concepts an instructor needs to spend more time on to help students understand.

The same logic works from a student’s point of view: Making mistakes, even intentionally, can help guide students toward doing something correctly.


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