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In this paper, we discuss the first phase of a multiphase study aimed at investigating the dynamics of students' knowledge construction in the context of unfamiliar physical phenomenon-microscopic friction. The first phase of this study involved the investigation of the variations in students' mental models of microscopic friction. Clinical interviews were conducted with 11 students enrolled in conceptual modern physics to elicit their ideas and generate themes of explanations. A phenomenographic approach of data analysis was employed to establish the variations in students' explanations. Results show that students' mental models of friction at the atomic level are dominated by their macroscopic experiences. Friction at the atomic level according to most students is due to mechanical interactions (interlocking or rubbing of atoms). © 2011 American Physical Society.


© Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research. Original version available at:

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Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research





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