Forces and Motion | Electricity and Magnetism

Thinking about actions to take: Non-Contact Forces

Teaching Guidance for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

There's a good chance you could improve your teaching if you were to:

Try these

  • Giving real experiences of forces acting at a distance
  • Exploiting the tangible effects of magnets in regions of space around the magnet
  • Keeping magnetic, electric and gravity forces and their effects separate
  • Exploiting similarities of behaviour between the forces
  • Sharing some of the struggles that clever people had with action-at-a-distance in the past
  • Dealing with mass and the force of gravity acting on an object by sharing the reasons for caring about the difference
  • Discussing the assumed universality of these forces, and sharing some of the evidence for that

Teacher Tip: Work through the Physics Narrative to find these lines of thinking worked out and then look in the Teaching Approaches for some examples of activities.

Avoid these

  • Treating action-at-a-distance as obviously acceptable
  • Acting as if the similarities between the three non-contact forces always have been obvious
  • Over-emphasising the similarities
  • Conflating the terminology and representations for the three different forces

Teacher Tip: These difficulties are distilled from: the research findings; the practice of well-connected teachers with expertise; issues intrinsic to representing the physics well.

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