“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” “Except when a bug hits your car window, the car must exert more force on the bug because Newton’s laws only apply in the physics classroom, right?” Students in our classrooms were able to pick out definitions as well as examples of Newton’s three laws; they could recite the laws and even solve for force, mass, and acceleration. However, when given “real world” questions, they would quickly revert to naive explanations. This frustration led to an examination of our approach to teaching Newton’s laws. Like many, we taught Newton’s laws in their numerical order—first, second, and then third. Students read about the laws, copied definitions, and became proficient with vocabulary before they applied the laws in a lab setting. This paper discusses how we transformed our teaching of Newton’s laws by flipping the order (3, 2, 1) and putting the activity before concept, as well as how these changes affected student outcomes.

Original Citation

Lutz, J., Sylvester, K., Oliver, K., & Herrington, D. (2017). 3, 2, 1 … Discovering Newton’s Laws. The Physics Teacher, 55(3), 149–151. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.4976656

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