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A Flat-Wrong Belief

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As late as the 4th grade, a surprisingly high proportion of children continue to believe that the earth is flat, two science researchers note in the current issue of Science and Children.

Summarizing the findings of previous studies and their own research with a small sample of elementary teachers, the authors term the flat-earth belief "a preconceived notion, or what science educators call a naive theory."

"Such theories, based on common-sense experiences from an early age, are very difficult to give up," they write, "and can strongly interfere with any learning that challenges them."

"Science educators have only recently begun to realize the importance of confronting naive theories and helping students examine their beliefs about the world," they note.

In their own survey, for example, Alan Lightman, a research physicist at the Smithsonian

Astrophysical Observatory, and Philip Sadler, a former teacher who now directs a science-curriculum project, found that "2nd-grade teachers believed that 95 percent of their students knew the earth was round when less than 5 percent actually did."

Science and Children is a periodical of the National Science Teachers Association.

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