People hold a variety of prior conceptions that impact their learning. Prior conceptions that include erroneous or incomplete understandings represent a significant barrier to durable learning, as they are often difficult to change. While researchers have documented students' prior conceptions in many areas of geoscience, little is known about prior conceptions involving palaeontology. Here, data on student prior conceptions from two introductory undergraduate palaeontology courses are presented. In addition to more general misunderstandings about the nature of science, many students held incorrect ideas about methods of historical geology, Earth history, ancient life, and evolution. Of special note are student perceptions of the limits of palaeontology as scientific inquiry. By intentionally eliciting students' prior conceptions and implementing the pedagogical strategies described in other Elements in this series, we can shape instruction to challenge this negative view of palaeontology and improve student learning.
1. The Case of the Naked Clams
2. The Challenge of Prior Conceptions
3. Exploring Prior Conceptions
4. Prior Conceptions in Introductory Paleontology Courses