Fostering students’ conceptions about the quantum world – results of an interview study




Background: Quantum physics is both a highly topical and challenging topic of physics education. Learning quantum physics is inherently difficult because it is unimaginative, counterintuitive and fundamentally different from what learners know from their everyday life and classical physics. The results of recent studies underline that students are often not aware of the relevance of quantum physics and its technologies for their own lives, which makes studying quantum physics even more difficult. This is the starting point of this article: With the Erlanger teaching concept, we present an introductory teaching concept for quantum physics at secondary schools with the aim, among others, to raise students’ awareness of the importance of modern quantum technologies today and in the future.

Purpose: In order to evaluate which conceptions about the quantum world arise among students who are introduced to quantum physics with the Erlanger concept, we conducted an interview study.

Sample/Setting: A random sample of N = 25 students was interviewed after the intervention (15 male, 10 female) in order to answer the questions mentioned above. The interviews had a duration of 25 – 40 minutes. Prior to the intervention, none of the students had any classroom instruction in quantum physics.

Design and Methods: The students’ answers were transcribed and then evaluated on the basis of deductive and inductive categories using qualitative content analysis. The coding was done by independent coders (𝜅=0.84,95%−𝐶𝐼 [0.68;1.00]). Additionally, a cluster analysis was performed and a three-cluster solution was extracted. The three clusters could be interpreted in terms of content and thus facilitate the characterization of occurring types of students’ conceptions after the intervention.

Results: After the intervention with our concept, we found elaborated conceptions about the quantum world with the majority of respondents. 11 of the 25 students (cluster 1, labelled Primarily elaborate conception) are aware of the striking differences between quantum and classical physics, as all students in this cluster characterize the quantum world via effects or aspects that do not exist in classical physics. The importance of quantum physics for future technologies was named by the students combined in the cluster 2, labelled Quantum world as the world of technology. 10 of the students interviewed (cluster 3, labelled Quantum world as a classical world on a small scale) seem to stick to their pre-conceptions dominated by classical ways of thinking.

Conclusions: Our article provides implications for both classroom practice and future research. For classroom practice, the Erlanger teaching concept serves as a proposal to bridge the gap between quantum physics and the everyday life of the learners. In addition, the results of the interview study presented in this paper make a contribution to the empirical research on students’ conceptions about quantum physics. We not only find individual, independent conceptions of learners, but we also show that there are dependencies between them, allowing us to extract types of conceptions. The extraction of such types of student conceptions for various further concepts of quantum physics will be part of future research and could contribute to our understanding of learning processes in quantum physics.

Keywords: quantum physics, interview study, cluster analysis, teaching concept