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During our investigation of students' understanding of gravitational potential energy, we found some difficulties that students have with this topic. Many students who took upper-level mechanics courses had difficulties in understanding why there are two different expressions of gravitational potential energy. These students said they had some difficulties in understanding why there should be two different signs (+ & ?) and two different forms (g & 1/r) even though these expressions were considered as representing the same gravitational potential energy. To gain understanding of the sources of student difficulties, we used weekly reports and individual interviews. We analyzed student difficulties in terms of conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and contextual knowledge. The results of these research have guided the development of teaching material that addresses students' difficulties in understanding gravitational potential energy. We will show the development process and contents of the material in the second paper on this topic.
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