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Introducing mechanics by tapping core causal knowledge

By C.W.J.M. Klaassen, A.S. Westra, K.M. Emmett, H.M.C. Eijkelhof and P.L. Lijnse


This article concerns an outline of an introductory mechanics course. It is based on the argument that various uses of the concept of force (e.g. from Kepler, Newton and everyday life) share an explanatory strategy based on core causal knowledge. The strategy consists of (a) the idea that a force causes a deviation from how an object would move of its own accord (i.e. its force-free motion), and (b) an incentive to search, where the motion deviates from the assumed force-free motion, for recurring configurations with which such deviations can be correlated (interaction theory). Various assumptions can be made concerning both the force-free motion and the interaction theory, thus giving rise to a variety of specific explanations. Kepler’s semi-implicit intuition about the force-free motion is rest, Newton’s explicit assumption is uniform rectilinear motion, while in everyday explanations a diversity of pragmatic suggestions can be recognized. The idea is that the explanatory strategy, once made explicit by drawing on students’ intuitive causal knowledge, can be made to function for students as an advance organizer, in the sense of a general scheme that they recognize but do not yet know how to detail for scientific purposes

Year: 2008
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