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)

    Source - SPT/ Mo02TA01

    This resource outlines a simple activity that investigates the idea that if an object is not moving there can be a number of forces acting on it that balance each other out.

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

    Source - SPT/ Mf01PN08 and Fo01PN06

    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)

    Source - SPT/ Fo01TL06

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

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

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


    This study examined the explanations given by two classes of high school students in an economically affluent suburb of Seattle for objects at rest. Students were asked to diagram and defend the forces involves in a series of examples including (i) book at rest on a table, (ii) book held by hand, (iii) multiple books held by hand, (iv) book hanging from a spring, (v) book at rest on a table which is shown to depress, (vi) book at rest on a table again. Recordings of student discussions were made, and homework papers, as well as pre- and post-instruction test results were examined.
    Review sheet

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


    This study aimed to measure the effect of using 'bridging' analogies (analogies with intermediate examples) to address the preconceptions of high school physics students. The sample consisted of 3 experimental groups across 2 schools (comprising 150 students) and 2 control groups across 2 schools (comprising 55 students). Data was collected using pre- and post-intervention tests, and was analysed using a t-test.
    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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


    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."
    Review sheet

  • 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


    This study recorded all the lessons featuring work on air or gases that a group of 24 pupils had over a period of two years (5th and 6th grade). Data collection was carried out by observations of class discussions and practical experiments in the classroom. 17 6th grade pupils from a separate class were also interviewed on the topic.
    Review sheet

  • 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


    Four computer simulation programmes, three of which were accompanied by predict-observe-explain format tasks designed to provoke cognitive conflict, were used to study the process of conceptual change for a sample of 27 10th Grade students at a Catholic Boys' High School in Melbourne, Australia. Students completed the programme collaboratively, in pairs, and were asked a Likert-type questionnaire after completion in order to gauge the students' views. Pre- and post-instruction testing was carried out, and students were interviewed following each of these stages.
    Review sheet

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