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Student Conception and Perception of Newton’s Law


, Indonesia

*Corresponding author:

Abstract. This research aims to reveal the student's conception and perception of Newton’s Law. Method of this research
is qualitative with the sample is taken using purposive sampling consist of second semester (25 students), fourth semester
(26 students), sixth semester VI (25 students), and eight semester (18 students) IKIP PGRI MADIUN, which have taken
the first basic physics and mechanics courses. The data was collected with essay questions, interview, and FCI test. It
can be concluded that Mathematical language (symbol and visual) perception and intuition influence students conception.
The results of analysis showed that an incorrect conception arises because students do not understand the language of
physics and mathematics correctly.


The principle of Newtonian dynamics is an important concept that needs to be studied in addition to energy.
There were incorrect conception of students in drawing forces acting on an object that moving in a parabolic path
(projectile motion system), Students drawing the velocity vector, not the vector of forces [1]. Further research needs
to be conducted to find out the profile of students conception and perception of Newton's laws. By knowing accurate
description of student’s conception and perception, the lecturer will be easier to choose the suitable method, so that
improve the learning outcomes. This research provides evidence that there is a relationship between the conceptions
of physics and perception of mathematical language that has not been thoroughly studied.
Perception is very important in the mechanism of acquiring knowledge. According to [2] perception is the
early foundation in building knowledge, if the perception is wrong, then the knowledge gained is also wrong. Once
information is received, it is processed by the mind in accord with our experiences and mental states; this activity is
called perception [3]. In constructing perception, the students constructs a cognitive understanding (perception) of a
stimulus. The concepts of the students and his or her cognitive processes influence what he or she sees [4]. Student’s
perceptions change according to the information received and experienced of information processing. Perception of
students is very important because one of them causes of incorrect conceptions. Students can be different in
conceptions of information processing that occurs when they are exposed to incoherent presentation sources. Based
on the above explanation, it can be concluded that the study conception and students' perceptions of Newton's laws
are very important. Perception is more basic than conception, given that perceptual states are a significant source of
information about the world, and conceptions ultimately depend on the information provided by experience [5].
Five reasons why the concept of science is difficult to learn are (1) an abstract concept, (2) complex system,
(3) experience/students' prior knowledge is very limited, and (4) an understanding in the finite symbol, as well as (5)
misconceptions that occur in students [6]. Conception of learning refers to a constructivist view, that understanding
of construction is becoming more important than memorizing fact [7]. Learning physics should be moved and
focuses on understanding concepts.


The method used in this research is descriptive with the sample taken by purposive random sampling consist of
Semester II (25 students), Semester IV (26 students), semester VI (25 students), and semester VIII (18 students)
IKIP PGRI MADIUN, which have taken the first basic physics and mechanics courses. The data was collected using
essay test, interview, and three questions of FCI (Force Concept Inventory) [8].


The results showed that many students who do not understand Newton's laws, conceptions and perceptions of
students are listed in (TABLE 1) and the percentage of student’s conception are listed in (TABLE 2).

TABLE 1. Profile of Conception and Perception of Students

Correct conception Incorrect conception Perception
There are the forces acting on the On stationary objects there is 1. Newton's first law gives information that = 0,
stationary object, the net force on no force. meaning no forces acting on the object.
the object that work equals zero. 2. When an object is not given force/push, then the
object does not have force
= , net force will be zero Net force will be zero if a = 0, If there is a mathematical equation z = xy, z can be
if the velocity is constant m = 0, a, and m = 0. zero if x = 0 or y = 0, or both (x and y) = 0.
Net force is proportional to Net Force is proportional to Visual information and symbols derived from the
acceleration. velocity reference students showed that the force is
proportional to the speed, direction as well.
Newton's third law occurs in two Newton's third law occurs on Newton's third law occurs on an object, if there are
objects an object two forces acting on the object.

TABLE 2. The percentage of students conception

Conception Semester
There are the forces acting on the stationary object, the net force which works on the object is equal to zero.
no conception 40% 19.23% 28% 22.22%
Incorrect Conception 40% 23.08% 32% 66.67%
Correct Conception 20% 57.69% 40% 11.11%
= , net force will be zero if the velocity is constant
no conception 32% 15.38% 16% 22.22%
Incorrect Conception 40% 23.01% 44% 66.67%
Correct Conception 28% 61.54% 40% 11.11%
Net force is proportional to acceleration
no conception 60% 46,15% 28% 11,11%
Incorrect Conception 40% 26,92% 48% 55,56%
Correct Conception 0 7,69% 24% 33,33%
Newton's third law occurs in two objects
no conception 28% 19,23% 20% 5,55%
Incorrect Conception 64% 50% 60% 88,89%
Correct Conception 8% 19,23% 20% 5,56%
The first perception arises because students consider net force synonymous with energy. More concrete
conception and intuition are dominant in student’s conclusion. It is assumed that if a force is exerted on the object
then the object changes (moves). If the object doesn’t change, then the object doesn’t have force. The statement of
student that there is no force acting on stationary objects is shown in (FIGURE 1). A constant force is necccesary to
maintain constant motion [9].
FIGURE 1. Written test answers of Newton first law

Details of the interview sample with students answer shown in (Figure 1) as follows:
Lecturer : If there is a stationary object on the table, is there any forces that work on the object?.
Students : there are no forces because the object is not moving
Lecturer : , what physical meaning of this equation?
Student : force equals zero
Lecturer : what is the meaning sigma symbol?
Student : Yes, force equal to zero
Lecturer : Sigma instead of the sum of the force (net force)?
Student : Yes sigma is summation symbol, but sigma force is just equal to force too.
Lecturer : ok, thanks for your confirmation.
Based on the results of interviews conducted, two arguments are grouped as follows, (1) Students considered
that there is no force on stationary objects, the new object has a force after being given a force, with condition that
the object is moving, if not, then the object does not have any force, (2) Students still consider the symbol sigma, has
no meaning since the net force equal to the force. Students assume = 0, sigma symbol has no meaning, since
according to them , there was no difference among them. This perception arises from a source of
teaching and learning process in advance. Incompleteness in writing a symbol of teaching resources due to practical
reasons also had an impact. Students also used to solve the problem by entering the value of the known symbol, and
then solve it with the appropriate method. Symbols which are written by student in solving the problem is also
incomplete that becomes a habit, students also do not understand the concept of equilibrium shown in (TABLE 3).

TABLE 3. Test Concept of Equilibrium

Test Result
Which figure represents the equilibrium state ?, (a) , (b), (a) From 36 students who have incorrect conception, 20 students
and (b). choose option. (a), 14 students choose option (a) and (b), and
2 students choose (b). Students did’t understand the symbol
and arrows that represent the magnitude and direction of
force, although there are students who answered correctly (2)
but the arguments presented trial and error. These results
reinforce the conclusion that many students do not
understand Newton First Laws.
Understanding of mathematical language in the language of physics needs to be emphasized to the students,
the mathematical information affect student conception. If there is the equation z = xy, z can be zero if x = 0 or y =
0, or both (x and y) = 0. Mathematically this rule is justified, but physically this rule to be scrutinized, the amount of
mass (m) must have a value, physically may be zero is a (acceleration) to obtain the net force is zero. Students
assume that if the acceleration is constant, then the force will be zero (assuming the acceleration is zero). FCI test
result given in (TABLE 4) reinforces this result.

TABLE 4. FCI Test Newton First and Second Law

FCI Test Result
Q 4. A heavy ball is attached to a string and is swung in a circular From 39 students who have incorrect conception, 33
path in a horizontal plane as illustrated in the accompanying figure students chose option (a) and 5 students chose option (e),
to the right. At the point P indicated in the figure, the string and 1 student choose option (c). This information
suddenly breaks near the ball. If these events are observed from reinforces the conclusion on the students’ perception that
directly above as in the figure, which path would the ball most the force have same direction with velocity.
closely follow after the string breaks?
Q 10. The accompanying diagram depicts a semicircular channel From 39 students who have incorrect conception, 35
that has been securely attached, in a horizontal plane, to a table students choose option (a) and 4 students chose option
top. A ball enters the channel at “1” and exits at “2”. Which of the (b). Confusion of students in compared acceleration and
path representations would most nearly correspond to the path of velocity give other consequences, visual information and
the ball as it exits the channel at “2” and rolls across the table top? symbols derived from the reference interpreted by
students show that the force is proportional to the
velocity, direction as well. A changing velocity is related
to a changing force [9].

Newton's third law is interpreted by the student’s only work on one object. If there is force acting on the
object to the right direction, then there is a force towards the left, then the action-reaction occurs. Results of student
answers shown in (FIGURE 2) reinforces this conclusion.
Iya, besar gaya yang diberikan sama, karena gaya
yang terlibat saling meniadakan

FIGURE 2. Written test answers, Student Perception about Newton's third law

FIGURE 2 shows the assumption of students that Newton's third law works on one object. In addition,
students also have the perception that Newton's third law of equality is another form of the equation of Newton's
First Law. FCI result given in (TABLE 5) reinforces this result.

TABLE 5. FCI Test Newton Third Law

FCI Test Result
Q. 11. Two students, student “a” who has a mass of 95 kg and student “b” who has a From 60 students who have
mass of 77 kg sit in identical office chairs facing each other. Student “a” places his bare incorrect conception, 43 students
feet on student “b” knees, as shown below. Student “a” then suddenly pushes outward chose option (b), 15 students chose
with has feet, causing both chairs to move. option (d), and 2 students choose
In this situation: option (a). Student perceptions
a. Neither student exerts a force on the other influence by intuition, student a (in
b. Student “a” exerts a force on “b”, but “b” doesn’t exert any force on “a”. the picture) exerts a force on
c. Each student exerts a force on the other but “b” exerts the larger force. student b, so the students assumed
d. Each student exerts a force on the other but “a” exerts the larger force. that student (a) exert a force greater
e. Each student exerts the same amount of force on the other than student b.
Understanding of Newton’s laws should be emphasized so that students can distinguish among Newton's laws. If
students understand Newton's first law, the argument (FIGURE 2) will appear. The habit of using the equations
directly without knowing its meaning also caused incorrect conception. Mathematical language perception also
influences student’s conception. incorrrect conception in student’s may be attributed to the influence of their
preconceptions on learning the concepts or to their ineffective instruction [10]. The incorrect perception to the
mathematical equation in Newton Laws is due to the students who cannot recognize that the summation of forces,
have magnitude and direction, while mathematical equation in mathematics only have magnitude. The language of
mathematics is needed in studying physics, yet the physics concept also needs to be understood, so that the meaning
of both languages can be synergistic. Synergize the mathematical language with the language of physics absolute
given, referring to the use of the mathematical symbol of physics problem solving through mathematical operations
can help students understand the concepts of physics and addressing physics correctly [11]. The visual
representation of the diagram needs to be a concern lecturers and teaching resources that are used (TABLE 3),
Students don’t understand the symbol and figure that represent the magnitude and direction of force, in FCI test
students can’t distinguish between force direction and velocity direction. In addition, students also have the
perception that Newton's third law of equality is another form of the equation of Newton's First Law. From students
visual representation (FIGURE 2) and FCI test, consistency of physics symbol (visual and mathematics) in teaching
and learning resources becomes very important to overcome incorrect conception.


Hierarchical learning must be considered in learning physics. From the information collected, it could be
concluded that the students had difficulty in understanding the concept of Newton’s Laws. Student perceptions
affected student conception. Students still thought a partial understanding of the language of mathematics and
physics in studying the physics concept. The language of mathematics is more dominant perceptions of students,
thus caused a wrong conception. Integration of the language of mathematics and physics was absolutely necessary to
reduce incorrect conception. The visual representation of physics concepts and student interview became important
to evaluate the student’s perception consistency and student understanding of mathematical language applied in


IKIP PGRI MADIUN which has provided funding for this research.


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