Some students who have heard sound is 'carried ' through the air may think sound is carried by individual molecules

Light, Sound and Waves


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

  • Sounds - groups of particles moving to and fro (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TL03

    The challenge here is for pupils to come to recognise and to understand the scientific view of what sound is: the disturbance created by the source, which travels out through the surrounding medium. The disturbance itself consists of successive regions of high and low-density air created by the forwards and backwards motion of millions of air particles. No to and fro motion – no sound.

    View Resource
  • How are we able to hear?  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT So01PN02 

    The first step in answering this question is to treat the act of hearing as involving a chain from source (which is vibrating) to medium (which enables the vibrations to pass) to detector (which in this case is you!) For vibrations to travel from source to detector there must be particles of matter in the gap, and these form the medium. If there are no particles then there is nothing to carry the sound from source to detector.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Lautrey, J. & K. Mazens () Is children’s naive knowledge consistent? A comparison of the concepts of soundand heat Learning and Instruction 14 Elsevier


    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

  • 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 J Sci Educ Technol 21


    Review sheet

  • Sözen, M. & Bolat, M. () Determining the misconceptions of primary school students related to sound transmission through drawing Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 15



    Review sheet

  • 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

  • M. Wittmann, R.N. Steinberg & E. F. Redish () M. Wittmann, R.N. Steinberg & E. F. Redish International Journal of Science Education 25 8


    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

  • C. J. Linder & G. L. Erickson () A study of tertiary physics students’ conceptualizations of sound International Journal of Science Education London

    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

  • 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

  • Pejuan, A., Bohigas, X., Jaen, X. and Periago, C. () Misconceptions about sound among engineering students J Sci Educ Technol 21 669-685

    Review sheet

  • Houle, M.E. and Barnett, G.M. () Students’ Conceptions of Sound Waves Resulting from the Enactment of a New Technology-Enhanced Inquiry-Based Curriculum on Urban Bird Communication Journal of Science Education Technology 17


    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

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

    Review sheet

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