Many students think that an object beyond the Earth’s atmosphere (in space) does not experience a force of gravity
The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.
For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.
Previous research has shown that some pupils think gravity is due (at least in part) to having an atmosphere. This question probes ideas about gravity on the moon compared with that on Earth.EPSE Gravity Q16
This question explores understanding of the ‘weightlessness’ observed in Earth orbit.EPSE Gravity Q17
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)
Source - SPT/ Es01TL05
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
The following studies have documented this misconception:
- Watts, D. M. and Zylbersztajn, A. () A survey of some children's ideas about force. Physics Education, 16 (6),
This study investigated the conceptions of force of a sample of 125 students aged 14. Data was collected using a multiple-choice-with-explanation questionnaire.
- Graham, T. and Berry, J. () Students' intuitive understanding of gravity. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 24 (3),
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.
- Gilbert, J. K., Watts, D. M. and Osborne, R. J. () Students' Conceptions of Ideas in Mechanics. Physics Education, 17 (2),
- Osborne, R. () "Building on Children's Intuitive Ideas" in R. Osborne & P. Freyberg (Eds.), Learning in Science. Heinemann, Auckland.
- 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),
This study catalogued the responses of 36 students (16 girls and 20 boys) to 7 tasks on an example of motion in a particular context (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.
- Dilber, R., Karaman, I. and Duzgun, B. () High school students' understanding of projectile motion concepts. Educational Research and Evaluation, 15 (3),
This study analysed a sample of 82 high school students (36 boys and 46 girls) between the ages of 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. The study took place in the department of physics at Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey.