Most students think that if an object is moving, there must be a force in the direction of its motion

Forces and Motion


This idea is likely to be extremely resistant to change.

Resources to Address This

  • Drag forces and motion (11-14)

    Looking at the forces that affect the speed of a moving object

    View Resource


  • 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

  • Trumper, R. and Gorsky, P. () A cross-college age study about physics students' conceptions of force in pre-service training for high school teachers. Physics Education, 31 (4), 227-236.

    This Israeli study examined students' ability to develop energy-related ideas, finding that prior knowledge positively influenced idea development, while open or closed-mindedness showed no correlation.

    Paper digest

  • 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

  • McCloskey, M., Caramazza, A. and Green, B. () Curvilinear Motion in the Absence of External Forces: Naïve Beliefs About the Motion of Objects. Science, 210 (4474), 1139-1141.

    47 US-based university students (15 without formal physics education, 22 with high school physics, and 10 with university-level physics) were asked to draw the path a moving object would follow in several different situations. Over half of the students evidenced striking misconceptions: many believed that even in the absence of external forces, objects would move in curved paths.

  • White, B. Y. () Sources of Difficulty in Understanding Newtonian Dynamics. Cognitive Science, 7 (1), 41-65.

    This US study examined the responses of 40 high school science students (mean age 16.4) from an upper-middle-class suburb to a series of questions on Newtonian dynamics. Solutions and any comments made during the questions were recorded, and interviews and diagrams were drawn.

  • Watts, D. M. () A study of schoolchildren's alternative frameworks of the concept of force. International Journal of Science Education, 5 (2), 217-230.

    This study used an interview approach to identify the conceptions of force of 12 students aged 11-17. Students were drawn from a range of schools in the Greater London area, from both junior science classes and advanced-level physics classes.

  • Finegold, M. and Gorsky, P. () Students' Concept of Force as Applied to Related Physical Systems: A Search for Consistency. International Journal of Science Education, 13 (1), 97-113.

    This Israel-based study aimed to determine the percentage of students (ages 15-20) able to consistently apply a given correct (or incorrect) framework of beliefs about forces and categorise them. The sample was made up of two groups, 333 university students and 201 high school students, and used a 10-item written test as well as interviews to probe their understanding.

  • Ogborn, J. () Understanding students' understandings: An example from dynamics. International Journal of Science Education, 7 (2), 141-150.

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

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

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