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Misconception:
Children develop the misconception that all microbes are bad and carry those misconceptions with them into adulthood. The inundation begins very early in the young children’s lives, with mom and dad insisting on keeping hands clean with consistent hand washing and a good lathering of bacterial sanitizer of some brand. Children are consistently taught the bad about bacteria and viruses without equal attention being paid to the good about microbes. Even though the young student doesn’t realize exactly why mom continues to nag them about this, once they enter kindergarten the real education begins.
Reasons for misconception:
The very first objective and learning indicators in the Utah State Curriculum reads as follows.
Standard 1
Students will develop a sense of self.
Objective 1
Describe and practice responsible behaviors for health and safety.
When investigating lesson plans that are sanctioned by the Utah State Board of Education for this objective, I found many reasons that children could develop this misconception. While I agree with the idea of teaching good hygiene to students, I believe that equal attention could be paid to the good things that microbes do for our bodies as well. Imagine yourself as first week kindergarten student, and this is one of your activities.
Activity: To peak students’ interest in being a germ detective, apply a small circle of glogerm gel to hands. Have the students rub in the gel. Let them hold their hands under the UV light to show them where the germs are on their hands. Have students wash their hands with soap and water and challenge them to wash all the germs away. Check their hands under the UV light again to see if there are areas that are not washed properly, paying close attention to nails and in between fingers. Ask the students, “Do you still have germs on your hands? Let’s learn how to be germ busters.
While this may seem to be a good teaching aide, what is it really teaching these six year old students? I believe that we have begun the long process of teaching them that all microbes are bad for you, and that unless you get rid of them then they will make you sick. In going through the rest of the science core for elementary, I could not find anything that talked about or investigated the benefits of microbes being on or in your body until you hit the seventh grade. By this time teachers, students, and parents have a firm hold on this misconception.
This misconception is enhanced further by the activities that parents and teachers use to teach students about microbes. Books and other literature that K-12teachers bring into the classroom are negative towards all microbes. One popular website used all around the world to teach students about microbes is http://www.e-bug.eu/. It is an interactive website with games that students can play to learn about microbes. In studying a journal, the researchers had developed a few of these games in order to teach students about microbes. While they paid careful attention to design and interest of the students, no focus was paid to teaching the students of the benefits of microbes. In the website, almost all of the activities are geared towards killing the microbes with little attention being paid to the benefits.
Ideas for correcting the misconception:
Many of the resources for teaching students about microbes that I investigated produced similar results. Very little attention was paid to the benefits of microbes and only focused on the destruction and removal of microbes from our bodies. I did however find some good websites that would serve as resources for teachers to teach the benefits of microbes to their students. One of these was this site: http://www8.georgetown.edu/centers/cndls/applications/postertool/index.cfm?fuseaction=poster.display&posterID=2715
It has a variety of lesson plans ideas that are balanced in teaching students the good and bad about microbes. One particular plan that I really liked was Microbes that are Your Buddies. It includes the following: We have already talked about how microbes are found almost everywhere on Earth and have seen evidence of that on cultures that the students made in the past week. The fact that microbes are everywhere raises the question of "why aren't we sick all of the time?" and so this week we begin to answer that question by discussing the fact that some microbes are actually our friends.
To dispel this misconception or myth, science educators must devote balanced time to the good things that microbes do for our bodies. We need to educate students that without microbes we would not be able to digest our foods and survive. Microbes also help us produce many of the foods that we eat on a daily basis, namely dairy products. We need them to understand that microbes live with us in a symbiotic relationship, and that they help us on a daily basis. This will come through devoting educational time to your curriculum, and helping to educate parents to teach their children the good that comes from microbes.

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