We report on the development of students’ ideas of probability and probability density in a University of Maine laboratory-based general education physics course called Intuitive Quantum Physics. Students in the course are generally math phobic with unfavorable expectations about the nature of physics and their ability to do it. We describe a set of activities used to teach concepts of probability and probability density. Rudimentary knowledge of mechanics is needed for one activity, but otherwise the material requires no additional preparation. Extensions of the activities include relating probability density to potential energy graphs for certain “touchstone” examples. Students have difficulties learning the target concepts, such as comparing the ratio of time in a region to total time in all regions. Instead, they often focus on edge effects, pattern match to previously studied situations, reason about necessary but incomplete macroscopic elements of the system, use the gambler’s fallacy, and use expectations about ensemble results rather than expectation values to predict future events. We map the development of their thinking to provide examples of problems rather than evidence of a curriculum’s success.


  • Mathematics > General
  • Education > General

Education Levels:

  • Grade 1
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 9


NSDL,probability,Education Foundations,Undergraduate (Lower Division),Mathematics,Physics Education Research,General Physics,Graduate/Professional,Alternative Conceptions,Mathematical Tools,Curriculum Development,probability density,Experiment/Lab Activity,Higher Education,Vocational/Professional Development Education,Undergraduate (Upper Division),Instructional Material,Probability, Waves, and Interference,Physics,oai:nsdl.org:2200/20070703141621147T,Probability,Education Practices,Course,Quantum Physics,NSDL_SetSpec_439869,Intuitive Quantum Physics,Laboratory,Education



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