Learning about A level physics students’ understandings of particle physics using concept mapping

H Gourlay

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7 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes a small-scale piece of research using concept mapping to elicit A level students’ understandings of particle physics. Fifty-nine Year 12 (16- and 17-year-old) students from two London schools participated. The exercise took place during school physics lessons. Students were instructed how to make a concept map and were provided with 24 topic-specific key words. Students’ concept maps were analysed by identifying the knowledge propositions they represented, enumerating how many students had made each one, and by identifying errors and potential misconceptions, with reference to the specification they were studying. The only correct statement made by a majority of students in both schools was that annihilation takes place when matter and antimatter collide, although there was evidence that some students were unable to distinguish between annihilation and pair production. A high proportion of students knew of up, down and strange quarks, and that the electron is a lepton. However, some students appeared to have a misconception that everything is made of quarks. Students found it harder to classify tau particles than they did electrons and muons. Where students made incorrect links about muons and tau particles their concept maps suggested that they thought they were mesons or quarks.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysics Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2016


  • particle physics
  • Concept Mapping
  • A level
  • physics education
  • science education

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