Key Idea: All matter is made up of atoms.

Students are expected to know that:

  1. Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space.
  2. Matter includes all gases, liquids, and solids, which make up all living and non-living things.
  3. Light and heat are not matter.
  4. All matter—solids, liquids, and gases—is made up of discrete particles (atoms), rather than being continuous, and that these atoms are the matter rather than contained in matter. In other words, the atoms are not floating or embedded in some other substance, such as air or a liquid.
  5. Matter can exist even when it cannot be seen. For example, gases or vapors are matter even though some of them cannot be seen.
  6. Anything made up of atoms is matter.
  7. It is because atoms take up space and have mass that all matter takes up space and has mass.

Boundaries:

  1. It is not expected that students will know about the internal structure of atoms or the existence of subatomic particles and, therefore, that these subatomic particles have mass.
Percent of students answering correctly (click on the item ID number to view the item and additional data)
Item ID
Number
Knowledge Being Assessed Grades
6–8
Grades
9–12
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AM059002

Matter is made up of atoms.

64%

72%

AM024005

If you remove all of the atoms from a chair, nothing will remain.

57%

73%

AM023005

Air is matter because it is made up of atoms.

57%

71%

AM058001

A gas, a solid, and a cell are all made up of atoms but heat is not.

53%

66%

Frequency of selecting a misconception

Misconception
ID Number

Student Misconception

Grades
6–8

Grades
9–12

AMM070

Cells are not made up of atoms (Herrmann-Abell & DeBoer, 2008).

27%

20%

AMM107

Air does not take up space (Driver et al., 1994).

22%

16%

AMM009

Atoms or molecules are embedded in matter (Renstrom et al., 1990; Griffiths et al., 1992; Lee et al., 1993; Johnson, 1998c).

18%

13%

AMM020

Solids are not made up of atoms; especially those without visible granularity (Johnson, 1998c; Nakhleh et al., 1999; Nakhleh et al., 2005; Nakhleh et al., 2006).

10%

7%

AMM022

Matter exists only when there is perceptual evidence of its existence (Stavy, 1990).

10%

7%

AMM137

Gases are not made up of atoms (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

10%

7%

AMM031

Biological materials are not matter (Stavy, 1991).

9%

6%

Frequency of selecting a misconception was calculated by dividing the total number of times a misconception was chosen by the number of times it could have been chosen, averaged over the number of students answering the questions within this particular idea.