Many students have vague ideas about what light is as they have not been given accurate, age-appropriate definitions, or have been given conflicting definitions

Light, Sound and Waves


Specifically, some students believe that the word ‘light’ refers to a source (e.g. a light bulb), some students believe that the word ‘light’ refers to an effect (e.g. a patch of light) and some students believe that the word ‘light’ refers to state (e.g. brightness).

If a student is asked to think about what light is a wide variety in their responses may be observed. This indicates that there is no single, homogeneous context for children's thinking about light.

Resources to Address This

  • Selecting and developing activities for seeing things (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS01 TA01

    A collection of ideas to think about when teaching this topic, and issues to avoid.

    Do not assume the students have a correct understanding about light - explore the correctness of what they do think.

    View Resource
  • Things you'll need to decide on as you plan: Seeing with Light  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT Li01 TL01

    This resource identifies the issues for the learners and the key 'physics' ideas that need to be established to sure understanding.

    View Resource
  • Thinking about actions to take: Radiating from Source to Absorber  (11-16)

    Ref SPT Ra01 TL13

    This extends the list of issues to include radiating and absorbing.

    View Resource


  • Paulo, M.; Bianor, V.; Isabel, C. () A Didactic Sequence of Elementary Geometric Optics Informed by History and Philosophy of Science. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 15,


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

    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

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

    Review sheet

  • Ramadas, J and Driver, R. () Aspects of secondary students' ideas about light, 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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