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Katherine Langford

Professional Biography:

profile picture of Katherine Langford

I am a PhD researcher in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I am researching how secondary school students develop an understanding of tricky topics in physics.

My supervisors are Professor Anne Adams, Dr Claire Hewson and Professor Eileen Scanlon.

Research Interest:

Teaching science is sometimes difficult. Physics is generally accepted to be particularly tricky as it deals with abstract concepts which are often counterintuitive. Students do not passively absorb the information they are taught. They have their own thoughts and ideas which influence their learning. For example, sometimes students reject the scientific concepts they are taught in preference of keeping their own incorrect theories. Often teachers do not understand why students struggle with particular topics and it can be very difficult to get rid of students’ misconceptions once they have them.

I am researching how students’ understanding of tricky physics topics develops. I am examining which physics topics students find especially tricky and why. In particular, I am looking for any patterns in the way students’ understanding develops. For example, what common misconceptions students have and if they have lay theories which can be used as anchoring conceptions (intuitive ideas that are scientifically correct which can be built on to help students understand more complex concepts). I will also be examining how students’ surface understanding (e.g. rote memorisation) and deep understanding (e.g. the ability to apply knowledge to solve novel problems) interact.

Word cloud of the interviews I conducted with six physics teachers about the topics students find tricky.

Word cloud of the interviews I conducted with six physics teachers about the topics students find tricky.


Tricky Physics: What's Fun Got To Do With It? - An article published by the European Educational Research Association about the importance of fun when learning.

External Links:

My ORCID profile (Open Researcher and Contributor ID website)

My PhD Researching Why Students Struggle to Learn Physics - Second prize multimedia entry to the Postgraduate Research Poster Competition held by the Graduate School at The Open Univeristy (11th June 2019)

Misconceptions About Learning - Podcast episode sponsored by the Open University Graduate School.

My PhD with the Open University - Video explaining some of the results from my preliminary study.

Blog Articles:

Refining the Focus of a PhD – An article about how I have narrowed down my PhD topic.

My experience of studying at the OU – Overcoming ME, flooding and a bad study experience at another college including my parents receiving a letter of condolence on ‘my death’.

Research Tips During Coronavirus – Useful resources for OU researchers during the pandemic.

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