Nearly 20 percent of American high schoolers struggle to understand basic science concepts at the time of graduation, and teachers routinely cite core physics principles—gravity, density, inertia—as the most difficult ideas for students to grasp. Like many teachers, Samantha Greenstein spends a lot of time unraveling her students' faulty logic. "They see pictures of the solar system and figure the planets are going to crash into each other," says Greenstein, who teaches middle school science in Solana Beach, California.
Field Test: What Goes Up
It's an uphill battle from the start. As soon as children are able to form sentences, they begin to explain the world around them. But that means students tend to come to school with preconceived—and often incorrect—conclusions about observable phenomena. They may have decided that a paperclip is weightless, that air is the same as nothing, that the sun actually "rises." Now, new research published in the journal Cognition confirms that many childish explanations persist into adulthood despite teachers' best efforts to eradicate them.