Many students see falling as ‘natural’ and not requiring an explanation

Forces and Motion


Diagnostic Resources

Resource to Address This

  • Falling all over the world (5-11)

    Source - SPT/ Mf01TA03

    Children often have a very local understanding of the word down. In this resource we invite them to consider what down might mean for children in different places on this planet.

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  • How things fall (5-11)

    Source - SPT/ Mf01TA03

    This is a focussing activity, that shows the wide variety of things that fall in the children's everyday environment, and begins to develop a range of descriptions for these falls.

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  • Apparent weightlessness (11-16)

    Source - Practical physics/ Force and motion/Gravitational force and free fall

    The forcemeter reads zero during the fall. Gravity has not been switched off, however, and the mass is still subject to a downwards force. It still has weight, which is the unbalanced force resulting in its acceleration throughout its fall.

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The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Gilbert, J. K.; Watts, D. M. and Osborne, R. J. () Students' Conceptions of Ideas in Mechanics. Physics Education, 17 (2),


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    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

  • Selman, R., Krupa, M., Stone, C. and Jacquette, D. () Concrete operational thought and the emergence of the concept of unseen force in children's theories of electromagnetism and gravity. Science Education 66 (2),


    Review sheet

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