“Never at rest”: developing a conceptual framework for descriptions of ‘force’ in physics textbooks
The concept of ‘force’ is abstract and challenging for many physics students, and many studies have
revealed misconceptions that hinder students’ understanding and learning in classical physics. One reason
for this may be the multifaceted nature of the concept and how textbooks give different definitions
and explanations depending on the context. In this article, we present a framework of eight categories
for how the concept is described, based on fundamental principles in physics, their historical sources
and an analysis of how ‘force’ is described in four physics textbooks used in upper secondary schools in
Norway. Examples from one of the textbooks that constituted the empirical basis for the framework are
given. These reveal that textbooks may present students with a variety of definitions and explanations
of ‘force’. It is argued that students should be made aware of this variability in order to support their
motivation and learning in physics, but also to understand the complex and evolving nature of the force
concept and other important concepts in physics.
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