An Investigation of the Alternative Concepts of ‘Force’

Examining the trends arising from research conducted on Greek students

Introduction

Most of us still have the memory of being back at school in a classroom with the
physics teacher, be it a pleasant experience or a not so pleasant one! The image of the
teacher drawing a range of strange and peculiar diagrams and writing on the chalk board,
at times, what seemed to be incomprehensible formulae, must is still vivid memory. More
so, when subjects such as acceleration and inertia were discussed, or when the teacher
would ask the students to participate in the dialogue by asking them to explain their
understanding and perception of definitions such as force, motion, or energy. Somehow,
somewhere amidst all this confusion and yet, logical explanations a whole new light was
shed on what we knew, or more appropriately said, believed we knew. This, at times
overwhelming, feeling of confusion among most students made those who had a
tendency to do well in this subject to stand out from the crowd. Physics achievers, after
all, were mostly admired.
One explanation behind why this is so, may be attributed to the fact that they
managed to overcome the initial stage of prior experience and move on to adopt a more
scientific way of thinking earlier than their fellow students did. To many, these students
were perceived as being incredibly intelligent. The question that therefore gives rise, is
whether or not this tendency to being good at a subject such as physics is simply
attributed to a very high IQ or is it plainly a form of a talent?
Answering a question such as this is not as straightforward as one would first
assume. Assuming that the answer is a negative one, the subsequent question to ask
would be what are the reasons behind this being so? How is it possible for one group of
students to have the ability to think in what we describe as Newtonian terms, while
another, is far from grasping basic concepts such as the cause of physical phenomena?
An additional line of enquiry would be to identify whether or not this success lies in that
they actually comprehend the subject better or that they simply study harder, are more adept to learning the subject faster, and hence moved on quicker? Research in science
education over the past two decades has been dealing with all these kind of questions.

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