Many students think that moving an object higher from the Earth's surface increases the force of gravity acting on it

Forces and Motion

Misconception

Diagnostic Resources

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

• Gravity gets stronger (11-16)

This activity explores the 'right lines' idea that the force of gravity gets weaker the larger the distance between the objects.

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• Cosmic falling (5-11)

Here you can explore how the idea of down varies as you move from one planet to another, from one planetary system to another, from one star system to another, or from one galaxy to another. Down depends on the local gravity arrows.

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• Episode 401: Newton's law of universal gravitation (16-19)

This episode introduces Newton’s law of universal gravitation for point masses, and for spherical masses, and gets students practising calculations of the force between objects. The meaning of “inverse square law” is discussed.

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References

• Watts, D. M. and Zylbersztajn, A. () A survey of some children's ideas about force. Physics Education, 16 (6), 360-365.

Many students in secondary schools have an unclear or incorrect understanding of the relationship between the motion of objects and the forces acting on them; this is particularly true when one of these forces is gravity. The researchers identify a range of student misconceptions and suggest that teachers need to use these as starting points to develop activities which challenge students to overcome them.

Paper digest

• Bliss, J., Ogborn, J. and Whitelock, D. () Secondary school pupils' commonsense theories of motion. International Journal of Science Education, 11 (3), 263-272.

Asking students to analyse images from comic strips, rather than the more common force diagrams used in lessons, can be useful in establishing students' understanding of forces. The approach also helps to identify misconceptions, based on students ‘common sense’ when they give their descriptions. These ideas are often resilient to change and need to be explicitly challenged in teaching and learning activities.

Paper digest

• Osborne, R. () "Building on Children's Intuitive Ideas" in R. Osborne & P. Freyberg (Eds.), Learning in Science. Heinemann, Auckland, 41-51.