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“Force,” ontology, and language

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Author(s): David T. Brookes | Eugenia Etkina

Journal: Physical review special topics. Physics education research
ISSN 1554-9178

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2009;
Original page

ABSTRACT
We introduce a linguistic framework through which one can interpret systematically students’ understanding of and reasoning about force and motion. Some researchers have suggested that students have robust misconceptions or alternative frameworks grounded in everyday experience. Others have pointed out the inconsistency of students’ responses and presented a phenomenological explanation for what is observed, namely, knowledge in pieces. We wish to present a view that builds on and unifies aspects of this prior research. Our argument is that many students’ difficulties with force and motion are primarily due to a combination of linguistic and ontological difficulties. It is possible that students are primarily engaged in trying to define and categorize the meaning of the term “force” as spoken about by physicists. We found that this process of negotiation of meaning is remarkably similar to that engaged in by physicists in history. In this paper we will describe a study of the historical record that reveals an analogous process of meaning negotiation, spanning multiple centuries. Using methods from cognitive linguistics and systemic functional grammar, we will present an analysis of the force and motion literature, focusing on prior studies with interview data. We will then discuss the implications of our findings for physics instruction.
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