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Helping Students Organize And Retrieve Their Understanding Of Dynamics

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Physics in the K-16 Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.632.1 - 8.632.13



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Paper Authors

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Warren Turner

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Glenn Ellis

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2480


Smith College/Worcester Polytechnic Institute


When confronted with the large amount of information presented in an introductory physics course, students often have difficulty assimilating the concepts and seeing the big picture. Thus they may have difficulty transferring their knowledge to new situations. In this paper we present a conceptual framework that we have developed for teaching and applying dynamics at both the secondary school and college levels. In this framework the causes of motion are graphically related to the description of motion using Newton’s laws and impulse/momentum relationships. The framework accommodates translation and rotation, multiple dimensions, and time-varying forces. In addition to presenting the framework, we describe how it is used by teachers and students in the classroom as part of a learner-centered curriculum and provide an elevator activity as an example. Finally, we include the response of students to this approach.


Most introductory physics texts devote 10 or more chapters to the topics involved in dynamics, including pre-requisite skills such as vector operations, kinematics, Newton’s Laws, impulse- momentum relationships and the application of dynamics to a wide variety of situations. Thus it is not surprising that many students do not see how the concepts of dynamics are related to each other. Lacking a solid understanding of how the knowledge is structured, students may concentrate their efforts on learning processes to manipulate equations to solve problems. If this is the case, they will not gain a conceptual understanding of the subject matter, nor will they be able to transfer their knowledge to domains outside the narrow and idealized ones of their experience.

The National Research Council (NRC)1 summarizes a variety of studies illustrating how experts and novices differ in the way that they solve physics problems. The NRC notes that, “Experts usually mentioned the major principle(s) or law(s) that were applicable to the problem, and how one could apply them.” By comparison it is noted that “…competent beginners rarely referred to major principles and laws in physics; instead, they typically described which equations they would use and how those equations would be manipulated…Experts’ thinking seems to be organized around big ideas in physics, such as Newton’s second law and how it would apply, while novices tend to perceive problem solving in physics as memorizing, recalling , and manipulating equations to get answers.” The work of Chi2 cited by the NRC is particularly relevant to our paper. The NRC writes, “In representing a schema for an incline plane, the novice’s schema contains primarily surface features of the incline plane. In contrast the expert’s schema immediately connects the motion of an incline plane with the laws of physics and the

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Turner, W., & Ellis, G. (2003, June), Helping Students Organize And Retrieve Their Understanding Of Dynamics Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11592

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