What is So Hard About Gravity?

Make a list with fellow science teachers about what might be difficult about a particular science topic.

List of difficult topics when teaching about gravity

Time to work together with colleagues can be rare, but a conversation you might consider having with your colleagues is: what is it that makes science, or better yet, specific science topics, "hard".

Maybe you don't think science is hard, but perhaps there is a specific topic within a unit that you struggle with. Perhaps you find a certain unit more dull than others. Maybe your colleagues struggle with different topics altogether. By meeting and discussing these difficulties, you can uncover areas that your students might be having difficulty with as well. And by better understanding where difficulties lie, you'll be better prepared to assist your students.

Here is an example of one such list around the topic of "What's hard about gravity?" You may already notice some things that you might not have thought of but that may have held your students back. As we surface these issues, we can prepare ourselves to address them.

So what might be hard about gravity?

  1. Our own daily experiences may interfere with understanding gravity at a more abstract/ theoretical level.
  2. Gravity can be abstract and hard to demonstrate.
  3. You can't use your usual senses...you can't see or smell gravity.
  4. Much of the vocabulary surrounding gravity can be difficult.
  5. A key concept of gravity is the "reference point", and this can be difficult to grasp.
  6. Gravity requires thinking in terms of systems and this can be a challenge: what are the boundaries of the system? Students might need practice thinking this way.

By surveying your colleagues about what they find challenging in a specific science topic, you'll have a more complete picture of what your students might struggle with.

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About the Author

Marjee Chmiel, PhD

Marjee is the Director of Evaluation and Editorial Development at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Marjee previous worked at the Smithsonian Science Education Center as the Division Director of Curriculum and Communications. Marjee has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master's degree in curriculum design, both from Marquette University. Her PhD is from George Mason University in Educational Research and Evaluation Methods.