Many students see friction as a phenomenon, rather than as a force

Forces and Motion


Diagnostic Resources

  • Friction between solid surfaces (11-16)

    This resource explores the factors that affect the force of friction.

    View Resource
  • Visualising what happens at surfaces for grip and slip (5-11)

    This activity is designed to help children describe friction by:

    • recognising that sliding rough surfaces past each other has a warming effect
    • recognising that grip forces vary as the surfaces vary
    View Resource
  • Friction (11-14)

    When two surfaces are in contact there is a force acting on each surface that acts in a direction to stop them moving past one another.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Clement, J. () "Students' alternative conceptions in mechanics: a coherent system of preconceptions?" in H. Helm, and J. D. Novak (Eds), Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misconceptions in Science and Mathematics. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 310-315.

    This study highlighted common ideas among students, including the ideas that a force can be used up; a force inside a moving object is what keeps it going and if there is motion, there must be a force in the direction of motion. They suggest teachers develop metaphors which organise intuitions the student already has.

    Paper digest

  • Clement, J. () Using Bridging Analogies and Anchoring Intuitions to Deal with Students' Preconceptions in Physics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30 (10), 1241-1257.

    This study aimed to measure the effect of using 'bridging' analogies (analogies with intermediate examples) to address the preconceptions of students (aged 15-18). The sample consisted of ~200 pupils across multiple schools, data was collected using pre- and post-intervention tests, and results were analysed using a t-test.

  • Clement, J. () Students' preconceptions in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 50 (1), 66-71.

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