Some students think that ‘at rest’ is a natural state in which no forces are involved

Forces and Motion


Resources to Address This

  • Stationary objects (11-14)

    This resource outlines a simple activity that investigates the balancing forces acting on a stationary object.

    View Resource
  • Equilibrium - a question of balance (5-11 and 11-14)

    This resource gives an accessible explanation of balanced forces acting on an object.

    View Resource
  • Force equals motion: no motion equals no force (11-14)

    Stationary objects that appear to be affected by no force might have several forces acting on them which all add to zero.

    View Resource


  • Tao, P. K. and Gunstone, R. F. () The Process of Conceptual Change in Force and Motion during Computer-Supported Physics Instruction, Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, 36, (7) 859-882.

    It is common for students to confuse the concepts of force and motion, leading to ideas such as a constant resultant force will cause movement at a constant speed or that a motionless object cannot have a force acting on it. This research shows that analysing a wide range of scenarios is required to effectively reduce student misconceptions and that care must be taken when moving between contexts otherwise students may quickly revert to their prior beliefs.

    Paper digest

  • 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

  • Clement, J. () Using Bridging Analogies and Anchoring Intuitions to Deal with Students' Preconception in Physics Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30, (10) 1241-1257

    This study aimed to measure the effect of using 'bridging' analogies (analogies with intermediate examples) to address the preconceptions of students (aged 15-18). The sample consisted of ~200 pupils across multiple schools, data was collected using pre- and post-intervention tests, and results were analysed using a t-test.

  • Séré, M. G. () A study of some frameworks used by pupils aged 11 to 13 years in the interpretation of air pressure European Journal of Science Education 4 (3) 299-309.

    This study recorded all the lessons on the topic of air or gases that a group of 24 pupils had over a period of two years (10-12 years old).

  • Lythott, J. () "Aristotelian" was given as the answer, but what was the question? In H. Helm and J. D. Novak (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Seminar: Misonceptions in Science and Mathematics Cornell University Ithaca, NY, 257-265.

    The self-proclaimed purpose of this paper is "to raise questions concerning the advisability of the continued use of such adjectives, specifically "Aristotelian", without a concerted effort to understand whether or not it is an appropriate label for what it purports to describe."

  • Minstrell, J. () Explaining the "At Rest" Condition of an Object. The Physics Teacher, 20 (1) 10-14.

    This study investigated students' (14-18) explanations for stationary objects in an affluent Seattle suburb. Students drew diagrams of the forces involved in various scenarios, such as books at rest on a table, multiple books held by hand, a book hanging from a spring and a book on a table that is either stationary or depressing. The study recorded student discussions, homework and pre- and post-instruction tests.

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

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

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today