Many students think that an object beyond the Earth’s atmosphere (in space) does not experience a force of gravity

Forces and Motion


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.

Resource to Address This

  • One evening on Mars

    This resource will get students thinking and talking about the nature of the gravitational force.

    View Resource
  • Gravity exists in space (11-14)

    A major challenge is getting across the idea that gravity is a force that acts everywhere in the universe and is not simply restricted to the surface of the Earth.

    View Resource


  • 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

  • Dilber, R., Karaman, I. and Duzgun, B. () High school students' understanding of projectile motion concepts. Educational Research and Evaluation, 15 (3), 203-222.

    This Turkish study analysed a sample of 82 students (36 boys and 46 girls aged 16 and 17) using a qualitative multiple-choice test on projectile motion. The test was administered both prior to and after a 4-week instructional period.

  • Twigger, D., Byard, M., Driver, R., Draper, S., Hartley, R., Hennessy, S., Mohamed, R., O'Mally, C., O'Shea, T. and Scanlon, E. () The conception of force and motion of students aged between 10 and 15 years: an interview study designed to guide instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 16 (2), 215-229.

    This study catalogued the responses of 36 students (16 girls and 20 boys) to 7 tasks on motion in different contexts (e.g. kicking a pebble, a falling parachutist, and throwing a ball). The interviews lasted 1 hour and students participated in pairs, in order to encourage discussion. Students were also asked to give individual responses.

  • Gilbert, J. K., Watts, D. M. and Osborne, R. J. () Students' Conceptions of Ideas in Mechanics. Physics Education, 17 (2), 62-66.

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

  • Graham, T. and Berry, J. () Students' intuitive understanding of gravity. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 24 (3), 473-478.

    This study administered a questionnaire to a sample of 202 students in the UK between the ages of 16 and 18 from a range of city and rural comprehensive schools, private schools and sixth-form colleges.

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