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Fluctuations in Student Understanding of Newton’s 3rd Law Documents

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Fluctuations in Student Understanding of Newton’s 3rd Law 

written by Jessica Clark, Eleanor C. Sayre, and Scott V. Franklin

We present data from a between-student study on student response to questions on Newton's Third Law given throughout the academic year. The study, conducted at Rochester Institute of Technology, involved students from the first and third of a three-quarter sequence. Construction of a response curve reveals subtle dynamics in student learning not captured by simple pre/post testing. We find a a significant positive effect from direct instruction, peaking at the end of instruction on forces, that diminishes by the end of the quarter. Two quarters later, in physics III, a significant dip in correct response occurs when instruction changes from the vector quantities of electric forces and fields to the scalar quantity of electric potential. Student response rebounds to its initial values, however, once instruction returns to the vector-based topics involving magnetic fields.

Published August 24, 2010
Last Modified October 11, 2010

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