Many pupils think a heavier object will fall faster than a lighter one of the same general shape or size.

Forces and Motion

Misconception RESEARCH REVIEW

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.

Resources to Address This

  • Falling objects (5-11 and 11-14)

    This resource will challenge the common mistaken idea that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects. 

    View Resource
  • Falling objects: a demonstration (11-16)

    It may seem surprising that the motion of all objects falling freely under gravity is the same.  A multiflash photograph could be taken of the falling objects to help illustrate this principle to students.

    View Resource

References

The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Gunstone, R. F. and White, R. T. () Understanding of Gravity. Science Education, 65 (3),

    291-299.

    This study presented a sample of first year physics undergraduates at Monash University, Australia, with eight physical situations. The students were asked to make predictions as to what would happen if a certain action was taken. The action was then taken, and the subjects were asked to explain any discrepancies between their prediction and the result.
    Review sheet

  • Maloney, D. P. () Rule-governed physics: Some novice predictions. International Journal of Science Education, 7 (3),

    295-306.

    This study asked a sample of 'college students' to complete a series of tasks designed to test their knowledge of force and motion prior to any instruction. All but one of the tasks consisted of presenting the students with two similar physical situations and asking them to predict which would exhibit a certain property more strongly (e.g. "which has higher velocity?") The study is assumed to have taken place in the United States, where the author is based.
    Review sheet

  • Ogborn, J. () Understanding students' understandings: An example from dynamics. International Journal of Science Education, 7 (2),

    141-150.

    Review sheet

  • Bliss, J.; Ogborn, J. and Whitelock, D. () Secondary school pupils' commonsense theories of motion. International Journal of Science Education, 11 (3),

    261-272.

    10.1080/0950069890110303

    This study aimed to expose and empirically test the 'commonsense theory of motion' developed by Jon Ogborn in a sample of 29 students aged 11-18 from two English comprehensive schools. Participants understanding of motion was tested by asking them to describe and explain a sequence of 'comics' depicting physical situations.
    Review sheet

IOP DOMAINS Physics CPD programme

New videos on forces

Our first collection of videos gives teachers and coaches of physics a preview of the training we offer ahead of this term's live support sessions.

Find out more