Students' conceptions of the forces acting on objects in motion

Year: 1994

Author: Palmer, David H.

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Over the last two decades a great amount of educational research has focused on the ideas which students have in relation to scientific concepts. It is now well established that during their experiences in everyday life children develop their own "naive theories" which they use to explain the natural phenomena which they observe in the world around them. In this study, 275 Year 10 students from a range of schools in the Hunter area of New South Wales answered a questionnaire in which they were asked to draw and name the forces acting on a ball thrown vertically upwards well after it has left the hand. Just over 10% of these students were also interviewed.

Ninety-five per cent of the students correctly indicated the force of gravity, and 17% correctly indicated the force of air resistance acting downwards on the ball. However, 72% of the students indicated a force pushing the ball upwards-a conception which is scientifically incorrect. The results from interviews indicated that the majority of these students already has this notion of a pushing force before they learnt about science at school-then they simply added concepts such as gravity and air resistance to their existing conception. The results thus supported a constructivist interpretation of learning in this topic.