Teaching quantum mechanics at the secondary school level

Kim Krijtenburg-Lewerissa

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Quantum mechanics (QM) plays an important role in current technological developments and scientific research. Therefore, QM has become part of the secondary schools curriculum in several countries. However, there has been little research into secondary school students’ understanding of quantum mechanics. In this thesis we present the results of an investigation into how QM can be successfully introduced at the secondary school level.
We first conducted a literature review to investigate the current state of research on secondary school students’ understanding of QM. Results showed that students have difficulty relating QM to physical reality, and that there is a need to investigate students’ difficulties concerning wave functions and potential wells. Additionally this study showed there is a need for the development of assessment tools for secondary education
Secondly, a Delphi study was conducted in order to explore what topics of QM Dutch experts consider important to teach at secondary schools and why. The results showed that there was a moderate to strong consensus on the topics that are considered to be important, i.e. duality, wave functions and atoms. Interviews showed that the experts’ opinions were based mainly on the idea that students should have a certain understanding of important scientific concepts. Topics that were considered too complex or abstract were viewed as less essential.
In the third study, we researched Dutch students’ misunderstandings after they learned quantum mechanics. Quantitative analysis of a concept test showed that Dutch secondary school students experience the same difficulties that were reported for undergraduate students. A qualitative analysis of open ended questions and interviews showed that Dutch students have difficulty connecting knowledge of the 1D infinite potential well and tunneling to their prior knowledge.
Finally, we investigated the influence of prior knowledge of potential energy on students’ understanding of QM in a quasi-experimental study. Results showed that the experimental group not only had better understanding of potential energy, but also of QM even before they were being taught QM. Analysis also showed that there was a significant correlation between the understanding of potential energy diagrams and the understanding of quantum mechanics.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • van Joolingen, Wouter, Supervisor
  • Brinkman, A., Supervisor
  • Pol, Henk J., Supervisor
Award date15 May 2020
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-4990-5
Electronic ISBNs978-90-365-4990-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • quantum mechanics
  • Secondary school
  • education


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