“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.