Event Diagrams: Supporting Student Reasoning in Space-Time

F. Kamphorst, E.R. Savelsbergh, M.J. Vollebregt, W.R. van Joolingen

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterAcademic


Like General Relativity, Special Relativity Theory also deals with counterintuitive results and concepts that are far from daily life experience. Both theories revolutionized our conceptions of time and space. The educational challenges for these theories may therefore have a common ground, which means that research in SRT and GRT-education can draw on each other for finding solutions for these problems.
Relativistic phenomena are hard to imagine, since they are far from our daily lives. Reported learning difficulties with these concepts are that students view the relativistic phenomena to be apparent or that they stick to a classical view [1, 2]. Most of these phenomena are direct consequences of strict reasoning with the light postulate. Student understanding of the light postulate, as well of other relativistic phenomena can be enhanced when students understand the relation between the two.
Both drawing and thought experiments have been proposed to close the gap between student understanding and hard to imagine physical concepts. Drawing allows students to make their incoherent thoughts explicit and visible [3], so students can communicate their ideas and to reflect on them. Thought experiments allow both students and scientists to study a phenomenon and its consequences in an idealized, isolated context [2].
The Event Diagram is a representation of space time that allows students to visualize the position of objects and events [1]. With slight modifications, the ED becomes not only a representation of space-time, but also a reasoning tool that supports students to perform thought experiments themselves. By drawing light propagation in the ED, students can explore phenomena like signal travel time and the time and place of events. This way, students can discover that relativistic phenomena are a consequence of the light postulate. We will present this reasoning tool, as well as some results of students working with the diagrams.


[1] Scherr, R. E. (2001). An investigation of student understanding of basic concepts in special relativity. Washington: Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation.
[2] A. Velentzas, K. Halkia, International Journal of Science Education 35, 3026 (2013)
[3] S. Ainsworth, V. Prain, R. Tytler, Science 333, 1096 (2011)
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2019
EventWE Heraeus Seminar: General Relativity as a Challenge for Physics Education - Physikzentrum, Bad Honnef, Germany
Duration: 10 Feb 201915 Feb 2019
Conference number: 690


SeminarWE Heraeus Seminar
CityBad Honnef
Internet address


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