Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Michael C. Wittmann

Second Committee Member

John R. Thompson

Third Committee Member

Franziska Peterson


Student difficulties surrounding motion have been well documented for many years. This work was inspired by the work of former MST students into the instruction of Newton‟s Second Law of Motion at the middle school level. The purpose of this study was to further investigate how middle school students talk and reason about motion. Particular attention was paid to how students defined the term “motion,” how those definitions fit into a larger framework of what encompasses understanding motion at the middle school level, and how students justified negativity of a calculation of a negative velocity.

A tutorial lesson was developed to help students gain an understanding of what motion is when discussed in the science classroom and how the math they are learning about can play a role in understanding terms like “uniform motion.” Students were asked to define motion before and after the learning event, along with other questions including asking them to justify the negativity of a velocity they calculated.

Student definitions of motion ranged from undefined conceptualizations of motion to well-thought-out definitions of complex terms like changes in speed or velocity. Furthermore, the way in which students justified the negativity of the third trial velocity illuminated two distinct models for reasoning. The first, with the systemically locked model, was the reliance on the location to justify the negativity. The second, with the directionally locked model, showed a reliance on the direction of motion in order to justify the negativity.

This study begins the process of illuminating the complexity of the understanding of motion that is required of middle school students. We outline the ways in which students discuss different categories of motion and how their justifications of the negativity of a velocity can show us which model they are more likely to utilize to potentially help push their understanding further.