Secondary and University Students’ Descriptions of Quantum Uncertainty and the Wave Nature of Quantum Particles

Science & Education (forthcoming)


Teaching and learning of quantum physics at secondary level is an active field of research. One important challenge is finding ways to promote understanding of quantum concepts without the mathematical formalism that is embedded in quantum mechanics but unavailable on the secondary level. We investigated Norwegian secondary students’ descriptions of the wave nature of quantum particles and the uncertainty principle, as expressed during work with learning resources using a sociocultural approach emphasizing history, philosophy, and nature of science aspects. Responses from university students given after a formalism-based course in quantum physics were included for comparison. Themes were identified using thematic analysis and analyzed from the perspective of pedagogical link-making, seeing different themes as representing different levels of explanations of the concepts. The most dominant theme in descriptions of particle wave nature was that particles exhibit wave behavior in experiments, while referring to the mathematical description of particles by wave functions was a less prominent theme, even among university students. Two uncertainty principle themes were found: uncertainty as inability to measure pairs of variables precisely, and uncertainty as innate blurriness in nature. Largely missing from descriptions of both concepts were meaningful links between different levels of explanations. Based on the results, we discuss ways forward for teaching particle wave nature and uncertainty in secondary education.

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References found in this work

Bohmian Mechanics.Sheldon Goldstein - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.Lev Vaidman - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.Jan Faye - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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