Physics students' understanding of relative speed: A phenomenographic study

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Abstract

It is important that students of physics develop both quantitative and qualitative understanding of physical concepts and principles. Although accuracy and reliability in solving quantitative problems is necessary, a qualitative understanding is required in applying concepts and principles to new problems and in real-life situations. If students are not able to understand what underlies quantitative problem-solving procedures nor interpret the solution in physical terms, it is questionable whether they have developed an adequate understanding of physics. The research reported here is part of a larger phenomenographic study that is concerned with the assessment of physics students' understanding of some basic concepts and principles in kinematics. In this article students' understanding of the concept of relative speed is described. A variety of ways of understanding relative speed and of viewing a problem that dealt with this concept were uncovered. The results are used to suggest ways for teachers to proceed in assisting students to enhance their understanding of this concept. The teaching principles outlined concern both teaching relative speed, in particular, and teaching scientific concepts and principles, more generally.

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