The study of circular motion at GCSE provides some conceptual challenges for students; the most common alternative conceptions are listed below, it is hoped that the resources below will help support their learning.
- When objects move in a circular path they are ‘not’ accelerating because they are travelling at constant speed. Students often think this because they have learnt or assume that acceleration only means speeding up or slowing down and the fact that a change in direction is also acceleration is overlooked.
- When an object is moving in a circular path there is a force ‘away from’ the centre of the circular path. Experiences on roundabouts, fairground rides and the widespread use of the term centrifugal force help to reinforce this way of looking at things, but this is in contradiction to the fact that a force towards the centre is what is required to keep going around in a circle.
- If the force causing an object to move in a circular path is completely removed, the object will leave along a ‘radius or spiral off’ the circular path. Whereas in fact it will move off the circular path along a tangent.
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