Newton's Law of Gravitation
Earth and Space

Pupil starting points

Teaching Guidance for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

Starting points

What would you expect children, on entering secondary school, to know about the force of gravity?

We asked a group of 11-year-old pupils the following question:

Teacher: I throw an object up into the air. Are there any forces acting on it after it has left my hand?

Here are a couple of sample answers.

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Anya (clip 1) states that gravity is pulling the object down. She then goes on to suggest that there is also an upthrust acting on the object and that if the gravity overpowers the upthrust the object will fall. In reality the object is accelerated by the upwards force of the hand (during the act of throwing), but after that the only force acting on the object is the downward pull of gravity (ignoring air resistance).

Sarah (clip2) knows that gravity is acting on the object at the top and as it comes down, but is not sure about what happens on the way up. Pupils often struggle with the idea that a force can act in the opposite direction from the direction of travel of an object (gravity acts down as the object moves up).

Newton's Law of Gravitation
is expressed by the relation F=G(m_1)(m_2)/r^2
can be used to derive Kepler's First Law
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