Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Kinematics is a topic students are unknowingly aware of well before entering the physics classroom. Students observe motion on a daily basis. They are constantly interpreting and making sense of their observations, unintentionally building their own understanding of kinematics before receiving any formal instruction. Unfortunately, when students take their prior conceptions to understand a new situation, they often do so in a way that inaccurately connects their learning. We were motivated to identify strategies to help our students make accurate connections to their prior knowledge and understand kinematics at a deeper level. To do this, we integrated a formative assessment card sort into a kinematic graphing unit within an introductory high school physics course. Throughout the activities, we required students to document and reflect upon their thinking. This allowed their learning to build upon their own previously held conceptual understanding, which provided an avenue for cognitive growth. By taking a more direct approach to eliciting student reasoning, we hoped to improve student learning and guide our assessment of their learning. Physicists use graphs as a second language and our students are often unable to “speak” that language due to a lack of conceptual understanding. Students are proficient in graphing skills when they are able to apply learned patterns to memorize trends. However, when deeper interpretation of graphs is required, students struggle. We believe this is, in part, because students’ preconceptions are inhibiting their ability to form an accurate understanding of kinematic graphs. For example, once students learn one type of graph, they often incorrectly relate it to a newly learned type of graph. Additionally, students have difficulty separating the shape of a graph from the path of motion. When students see an upward sloping position-time graph, they often think it means the object is traveling uphill. Other studies have looked at different methods for teaching kinematic graphs, but in this paper we focus on using a Card Sort activity to help make students’ thinking explicit to themselves and their teachers.

Original Citation

Berryhill, E., Herrington, D., & Oliver, K. (2016). Kinematics Card Sort Activity: Insight into Students’ Thinking. The Physics Teacher, 54(9), 541–544. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.4967894