BIOLOGY: Lessons Pulled From Thin Air

Program 2 from The Private Universe Project Workshop Series

Schneps, Matthew H., Producer, Director
Annenberg Foundation/Corporation for Public Broadcasting Math and Science Project
1995, President and Fellows of Harvard College

This 90-minute video includes student interviews about the source of a log's mass, discussion of issues students raise, and strategies for effective teaching. One interview, with Harvard and MIT graduates, demonstrates that even college graduates hold misconceptions about basic concepts in science. When 21 graduates from Harvard and MIT were shown a log and were asked to explain where its mass and that of the rest of the tree came from, none mentioned the air as a source of the log's mass. Some graduates were surprised, and some even disagreed, when the interviewer suggested that the mass of the tree came mostly from the carbon dioxide in the air. Extensive interviews with a middle-school student show similar misconceptions and illustrate how some student ideas are quite resistant to change.