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European Journal of Physics 31 (2010) 1527-1538
Exploring students' understanding of reference frames and time in Galilean and special relativity
C. De Hosson1, I. Kermen1, E. Parizot2

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 the relativistic kinematics. About 100 prospective physics teachers were surveyed by means of a questionnaire involving classical kinematics situations and relativistic ones. The analysis of the answers shows a deep lack of understanding of both concepts of reference frame and event. Some students think that events may be simultaneous for an observer and not simultaneous for another one, even when both observers are located in the same reference frame. Most of the students surveyed cannot give an answer only depending on the location of the observer when his/her velocity is mentioned as if the movement contaminated the event. This lack of understanding is embodied in reasoning implemented by the population surveyed to address classical kinematics questions and seems to form a major obstacle to grasping relativistic kinematics.
1 :  LDAR - Laboratoire de Didactique André Revuz
2 :  APC - UMR 7164 - AstroParticule et Cosmologie
Physique/Physique/Enseignement de la physique