Student understanding of time in special relativity: Simultaneity and reference frames

  title={Student understanding of time in special relativity: Simultaneity and reference frames},
  author={Rachel E. Scherr and Peter S. Shaffer and Stamatis P. Vokos},
  journal={American Journal of Physics},
This article reports on an investigation of student understanding of the concept of time in special relativity. A series of research tasks are discussed that illustrate, step-by-step, how student reasoning of fundamental concepts of relativity was probed. The results indicate that after standard instruction students at all academic levels have serious difficulties with the relativity of simultaneity and with the role of observers in inertial reference frames. Evidence is presented that suggests… 

Figures and Tables from this paper

The Challenge of Changing Deeply Held Student Beliefs about the Relativity of Simultaneity.

Previous research indicates that after standard instruction, students at all levels often construct a conceptual framework in which the ideas of absolute simultaneity and the relativity of

Exploring students' understanding of reference frames and time in Galilean and special relativity

This paper aims at exploring prospective physics teachers' reasoning associated with the concepts of reference frame, time and event which form the framework of the classical kinematics and that of

Relativity of simultaneity in secondary school: an analysis based on the Theory of the Conceptual Fields

In this paper, we present results about the conceptualization of the relativity of simultaneity and the operational invariants used by high school students. The Theory of Conceptual Fields is adopted

Learning and teaching Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity: state of the art

This work analyzes the difficulties in learning and teaching Einstein's theory of special relativity. An extensive bibliographic review has been performed, considering articles published in the most

A teaching proposal for the didactics of Special Relativity: the spacetime globe

Special Relativity introduces students to Modern Physics, whose importance in the high school is increasing. Nevertheless its teaching and learning is a critical issue. Different solutions have been

Secondary Students’ Understanding of Basic Ideas of Special Relativity

A major topic that has marked ‘modern physics’ is the theory of special relativity (TSR). The present work focuses on the possibility of teaching the basic ideas of the TSR to students at the upper

a case study in learning special relativity

A software package is used to introduce concepts of special relativity to students in a game-like environment where users experience the effects of travelling at near light speeds, and students find the simulation to be a positive learning experience and described the subject area as being less abstract after its use.

The Role of History and Philosophy in Research on Teaching and Learning of Relativity

The paper provides an overview of the studies on teaching/learning special relativity carried out in physics education research. The purpose of the overview is to (i) show the main research strands

A Teaching–Learning Sequence for the Special Relativity Theory at High School Level Historically and Epistemologically Contextualized

This paper discusses some topics that stem from recent contributions made by the History, the Philosophy, and the Didactics of Science. We consider these topics relevant to the introduction of the

Difficulties in Learning for Solving Problem of Space-Time Special Relativity

This study has been done to study the difficulties of learning of first-year University’s student in space-time special relativity topic. A total of 206 first-year students from three universities in



Spontaneous reasoning of graduate students

Investigations into students’ conceptions have led to the conclusion that alternative ways of reasoning coexist with those forms learnt in science classes at school. This paper presents a study of

'Spontaneous' ways of reasoning in elementary kinematics

The aim of this study was to explore and analyse 'spontaneous' ways of reasoning (SWR) of students in elementary kinematics (uniform motion in galilean frames). A set of experiments presented to 80

Alternative conceptions in Galilean relativity: inertial and non‐inertial observers

This concluding part of a study on Galilean relativity focuses on students’ notions with regard to the inertial and non‐inertial character of frames of reference. (See Panse et al. 1994, Ramadas et

A Case Study of Conceptual Change in Special Relativity: The Influence of Prior Knowledge in Learning‡

Summaries English It is widely accepted that a person's existing knowledge plays a critical role in learning science. Two different aspects of this role are illuminated by the research reported in

The challenge of matching learning assessments to teaching goals: An example from the work-energy and impulse-momentum theorems

The issue of how to assess learning is addressed in the context of an investigation of student understanding of the work-energy and impulse-momentum theorems. Evidence is presented that conceptual

A perspective on teacher preparation in physics and other sciences: The need for special science courses for teachers

This article proceeds from the premise that one of the major reasons for the perceived crisis in science education is the failure of our colleges and universities to provide the type of preparation

Accommodation of a scientific conception: Toward a theory of conceptual change

It has become a commonplace belief that learning is the result of the interaction between what the student is taught and his current ideas or concepts.’ This is by no means a new view of learning.

Students’ spontaneous ideas about the speed of light

The answers given by a group of physics graduate students to two problems on the speed of light are analysed. The results seem to confirm the use of spontaneous ideas which are very similar to those

Student understanding of the wave nature of matter: Diffraction and interference of particles

This paper reports on a study of student understanding of the wave nature of matter in the context of the pattern produced by the diffraction and interference of particles. Students in first-year,

Development and assessment of a research-based tutorial on light and shadow

This article describes an investigation of student understanding of geometrical optics and illustrates the use of research as a basis for the development of curriculum. Evidence is presented that