Most students think of waves ‘carrying’ material from one place to another

Light, Sound and Waves


As they would think about waves at the beach, and tides coming in and out. If asked to draw the path of one molecule in a water wave, most will draw a wavy line.

  • How vibrations travel (14-16)

    Ref- SPT Ra01 PN02

    So, what's doing the vibrating – that is, what is the source setting into repetitive motion, where it is sensible to be able to say that it has both a frequency and an amplitude? Let's start with light and with sound. These are very different – physically different. One needs tangible particles to vibrate; the other needs only an electromagnetic field. Some of the properties of these two kinds of vibrations were elucidated in the SPT: Sound and SPT: Light topics. These two can serve as prototypes: sound for mechanical vibrations; light for the whole electromagnetic spectrum.

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  • Introducing waves (11-16)

    Ref - Practical Physics; Waves; Variety of waves;

    The aim of this introductory discussion is to whet students' appetite for learning more about waves. Waves are all around us and behave in interesting ways. You could answer students' questions with further questions.

    Emphasis with each example that the wave is not carrying material from one place to another.

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The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Hernandez, M. I., Couso, D. & Pinto, R. () The Analysis of Students’ Conceptions as a Support for Designinga Teaching/Learning Sequence on the Acoustic Propertiesof Materials. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21,


    Review sheet

  • Iliaki, G., Velentzas, A., Michailidi, E. & Stavrou, D. () Exploring the music: a teaching-learning sequenceabout sound in authentic settings, Research in Science & Technological Education, Routledge.

    Review sheet

  • Caleon, I. & Subramaniam, R. () Development and Application of a Three‐Tier Diagnostic Test to Assess Secondary Students’ Understanding of Waves, International Journal of Science Education, 32 (7),


    Review sheet

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