NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ1039676
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Oct
Pages: 20
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 35
ISSN: ISSN-0926-7220
From Earth to Heaven: Using "Newton's Cannon" Thought Experiment for Teaching Satellite Physics
Velentzas, Athanasios; Halkia, Krystallia
Science & Education, v22 n10 p2621-2640 Oct 2013
Thought Experiments are powerful tools in both scientific thinking and in the teaching of science. In this study, the historical Thought Experiment (TE) "Newton's Cannon" was used as a tool to teach concepts relating to the motion of satellites to students at upper secondary level. The research instruments were: (a) a teaching-interview designed and implemented according to the Teaching Experiment methodology and (b) an open-ended questionnaire administered to students 2 weeks after the teaching-interview. The sample consisted of forty students divided into eleven groups. The teaching and learning processes which occurred during the teaching-interview were recorded and analyzed. The findings of the present study show that the use of the TE helped students to mentally construct a physical system which has nothing to do with their everyday experience (i.e. they had to imagine themselves as observers in a context in which the whole Earth was visible) and to draw conclusions about phenomena within this system. Specifically, students managed (1) to conclude that if an object is appropriately launched, it may be placed in an orbit around the Earth and to support this conclusion by giving necessary arguments, and (2) to realize that the same laws of physics describe, on the one hand, the motion of the Moon around the Earth (and the motion of other celestial bodies as well) and, on the other hand, the motion of "terrestrial" objects (i.e. objects on the Earth, such as a tennis ball). The main difficulties students met were caused by their idea that there is no gravity in the vacuum (i.e. the area outside of the Earth's atmosphere) and also by their everyday experience, according to which it is impossible for a projectile to move continuously parallel to the ground.
Springer. 233 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013. Tel: 800-777-4643; Tel: 212-460-1500; Fax: 212-348-4505; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A