Many students do not fully understand the connection between a light source, an object, and the eye looking at the object to describe a mechanism for sight

Light, Sound and Waves


This can crop up in a number of different ways, to name a few:

  • Some students will describe vision without considering any connection between an eye and an object.
  • Some believe that light comes to the eye from luminous objects, but goes from the eye to non-luminous objects, whereas some students believe when viewing a luminous object like a TV, the light comes from the eye.
  • Students often conceptualise something going back and forth between a source of light and the eye or an image entering the eye when we see something.
  • Some students describe light coming from the eye to an object as a mechanism for the eye 'seeing' omitting the need for a light source.
  • When there is a light source, some students depict/describe light from the source going into the eye and light coming from the eye to the object or light coming from the eye, as well as light from the source going into the object.

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York BEST website.

Resources to Address This

  • Not just mirrors  (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS01 PN08

    The law of reflection applies to the reflection of light at any surface, not just the 'shiny' ones that you might usually associate with reflection.

    View Resource
  • Modelling the working of the eye with a webcam  (11-14)

    Ref- SPT Li01TA05

    This demonstration is to present parallels between the structure and function of a webcam and the structure and function of an eye. Small webcams are about the size of the eye and provide a live shareable image of how the world appears to them.  --- At this early stage we aim to keep the discussions simple.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Muñoz-Franco, G.; Criado, A. M. and García-Carmon, A. () Investigating Image Formation with a Camera Obscura: a Study in Initial Primary Science Teacher Education. Research in Science Education, Springer Science and Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature

    Review sheet

  • Galili, I. and Lavrik, V. () Flux Concept in Learning about Light: A Critique of the Present Situation. Science Education 82


    Review sheet

  • Fetherstonhaugh, T. and Treagust, D. F. () Students’ Understanding of Light and Its Properties: Teaching to Engender Conceptual Change. Science Education 76 (6)


    Review sheet

  • Haagen-Schützenhöfer, C. () Students’ conceptions on white light and implications for teaching and learning about colour. Physics Education 52

    Review sheet

  • Wenham, E. J and Guesne, E. () The Place of Optics in Physics Teaching - Children's Ideas about Light. New Trends in Physics Teaching, IV


    Review sheet

  • Andersson, B and Kärrqvist, C. () How Swedish pupils, aged 12‐15 years, understand light and its properties. European Journal of Science Education, 5 (4)


    DOI: 10.1080/0140528830050403

    Review sheet

  • Heywood, D. S. () Primary Trainee Teachers’ Learning and Teaching About Light: Some pedagogic implications for initial teacher training. International Journal of Science Education, 27 (12)


    Review sheet

  • Osbourne, J., Black, P., Smith, M., and Meadows, J. () Primary SPACE project - light. Primary SPACE research project - research reports, Liverpool University Press.

    Review sheet

  • Ramadas, J. and Driver, R. () Aspects of secondary students' ideas about light. CLIS - Children's Learning in Science Project, University of Leeds Centre for Studies in Science & Mathematics Education.

    Review sheet

  • Tekos, G. and Solomonidou, C. () Constructivist Learning and Teaching of Optics Concepts Using ICT tools in Greek Primary School: A Pilot Study. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18 (5)


    Review sheet

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