Some students think sound needs an unobstructed path to travel at all

Light, Sound and Waves


Similar to walking through a crowd, rain stopped by an umbrella or a stream stopped by a dam, the students may think the speed of sound will be slower in a solid because there's more 'stuff' in the way.

Resources to Address This

  • Sounds travelling - not just filling  (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TL06

    Some pupils talk about sound as if it is something that can fill a space. Sound can only fill a space to the extent that it travels through that space.

    Each time you talk about sound, try to emphasise the source–medium–detector model, making it the most natural thing in the world to look for paths along which the sound travels.

    View Resource
  • Hearing everyday sounds  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT So01PN01

    Not surprising in some ways… but then again there's something rather fundamental to notice here. The sound starts from the radio's speaker downstairs and reaches you at the top of the house. The sound travels up the stairs, back along the landing and then up along another set of stairs to your lair. Not only could you hear the news up-stairs and down-stairs, but you could probably hear it outside as well.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Mazens, K. & Lautrey, J. () Conceptual change in physics: children’s naive representations of sound, Cognitive Development, 18,



    Review sheet

  • Wild, T.A., Hilson, M.P. & and S. M. Hobson, () The Conceptual Understanding of Sound by Students with Visual Impairment, Journal of visual empairment and blindness.

    Review sheet

  • Eshach, H. & Schwartzb, J. L. () Sound Stuff? Naïve materialism in middle-school students’ conceptions of sound. International Journal of Science Education, 28 (7),


    Review sheet

  • Caleon, I., Subramaniam, R & M. H. P. Regaya, () Revisiting the bell–jar demonstration, Physics Education, 48 (2), Singapore.

    Review sheet

  • Pejuan, A., Bohigas, X., Jaen, X. and Periago, C. () Misconceptions about sound among engineering students. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21,


    Review sheet

  • West, E. and Wallin, A. () Students' Learning of a Generalised Theory of Sound Transmission from a Teaching-learning sequence about sound, hearing and health. International Journal of Science Education, 35 (6), Sweden,


    Review sheet

  • Linder, C. J. () University physics students’ conceptualizations of factors affecting the speed of sound propagation. International Journal of Science Education, 15 (6), South Africa,


    Review sheet

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today