Some students may believe an important factor in hearing is the listener concentrating on the source of the sound

Light, Sound and Waves


In other words, the 'active ear'. Younger students may think the ear 'seeks' sound.

Resources to Address This

  • Our detector - the ear  (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TA15

    Investigating detectors and describing the process of detection.

    This activity focuses on the design of devices to detect sounds. The structure of the ear is important here, but you will also want to be able to refer to microphones, as these transform the vibrations of the air into electrical vibrations.

    View Resource
  • Human hearing  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT So01PN03

    The way in which humans hear is rather complicated, and explaining it fully involves aspects of physiology, psychology and acoustics. A simpler description concentrates on the action of the ear as it converts sounds to a sequence of nerve impulses which are transmitted to the brain.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Fazio, C., Guastella, I., Sperandeo-Mineo, R. M. and G. Tarantino, () Modelling Mechanical Wave Propagation: Guidelines and experimentation of a teaching–learning sequence, International Journal of Science Education, 30 (11),


    Review sheet

  • Hrepic, Z., Zollman, D. and Rebello, N.S. () Identifying students’ mental models of sound propagation: The role of conceptual blending in understanding conceptual change, Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 6, 020114.

    Review sheet

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