When teaching physical science, motion is by far my favorite unit. You can do so many fun experiments ranging from motion graphing and building rockets to Newton's laws demos. Any time you can incorporate graphing into the curriculum it is great since creating and reading graphs is a skill that will help students throughout both math and science.
One product you can use for motion graphing is PASCO's wireless motion sensor. This sensor works on bluetooth and is completely wireless, so students can move around the room without worrying about tripping over cords. If you have laptops you can even do your lab outside where you have more room to space out! Simply charge the motion sensor with a USB cord and it's ready to go.
To use the motion sensor, you need to download PASCO's free Match Graph software. (This was the only hiccup I had when using the motion sensor- if you are using school computers that require I.T. approval to download any software, you will have to put in a help desk ticket. Once it was installed by my tech department it worked like a breeze).
When you load Match Graph, you will see a main screen where you can switch between position-time graphs and velocity-time graphs. I always start with position-time graphs because they seem easier for the students to grasp. Next, have the students in each group type their name in the top so they can all take turns (more on this in a minute). When students are ready to begin, I have them hold a large whiteboard (any large flat surface works) in front of them- this seems to help the motion sensor detect them easily. The students will need about 4 meters of clearance behind them, so space your groups out around the room.
Once students hit record, a red line will appear on the screen and show their motion. The goal is for them to match the template shown on the screen. Students can change out between 9 different templates for each graph type. I like to let students play around with this lab before I've actually taught what position-time and velocity-time graphs look like. This allows students to use inquiry and figure out the difference between the two types of graphs.
Each time they take a turn Match Graph shows a score in the bottom right corner of the screen. This is GREAT for easy grading. All you have to do is walk around the room, have them pull up the scores under their name, and you can record their highest score. It gets competitive!
The front of the sensor turns 180 degrees, so you can turn the sensor so it faces up, place it on the ground, and measure the motion of objects in free fall. Have students explore gravity, air resistance, and gain a deeper understanding of slope. (I always try and time this unit at the same time students are learning slope in algebra). Match Graph is truly user friendly and you won't have issues with students trying to learn how to use it. Your students that are kinesthetic learners are never going to forget this lab!
Make sure to check out other resources PASCO has to offer on their website. In their digital library they have a TON of free labs you can download. Be sure to bookmark it for later!
(Note: This is a sponsored blog post from PASCO)
Earlier this month I had the incredible opportunity to get a behind the scenes tour of NASA (I'm still pinching myself). It was amazing! I can't claim to have been a NASA nerd since birth... it wasn't until I was in high school that I picked up the book October Sky (which has been my favorite book ever since) and became interested in space. I became fascinated with the space race and started watching things like From the Earth to the Moon and The Right Stuff, and reading books like Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. Long story short, a NASA nerd was born.
A fellow science teacher I follow on instagram posted some videos of a NASA launch and mentioned she was there through a NASA social event. I immediately looked it up and applied. (You can and should apply here). I didn't get selected for the first launch I applied for, so don't give up!
The event I was able to attend was the launch of the Mars Insight lander. It was the first planetary launch from the west coast. We already know a lot about the surface of Mars and it's atmosphere, but not as much about what is going on below the surface. It is suspected that Mars has a core similar to ours, and if so, there should be tectonic activity on the surface of Mars. The Insight lander has a probe that will measure the temperature of Mars' crust and a seismometer to measure any marsquakes (don't you just love that word?) It will land on Mars November 26th, 2018 and will send data back for the next 2 years.
On day 1 we arrived at the air force base, got our clearance, and hopped on the buses that took us to a NASA hanger. The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was the swag bags waiting for us (who doesn't love free gifts?!) There was a life size replica of the Insight lander, virtual reality headset so you could walk on the surface of Mars, and engineers ready to talk to us about all things Insight.
After lunch we got to sit in with the media peeps as NASA TV took over and talked about the launch. Speakers included Jim Green, NASA chief scientist, Tom Hoffman and Stu Spath, Insight project managers, Tim Dunn, NASA launch director, and more. I learned a ton from hearing them speak. Jim Green is certain that humans will eventually colonize Mars, and we need to understand all things Mars before we get there. He is excited about the Insight for a few reasons:
This is not the most exciting picture... I know. But as I drove up to the base for day 2 this was my view. Fog. It was not looking promising. BUT, day 2 was still my favorite day of the trip.
On day 2 we got a tour of all things NASA. We got to see the mission control room where the launch director sits and has the final no-no/go (pictured bottom right), the WROCC (western range operations control center), and the Space Launch Complex. The picture on the bottom left is of a map that showed every satellite currently orbiting Earth. NASA and the DoD also monitor every piece of space junk floating around in orbit, and there is over 500,000 pieces of debris being tracked. Nuts!
The highlight of day 2 was the last stop.... the launchpad. We got to see the Atlas 5 rocket and Insight preparing for launch. About 2 hours prior to launch (in this case, 2 am) the building you see surrounding the rocket slowly moves backward. Don't let the small size in the picture fool you, it was nearly 200 feet tall. It was a truly serene moment to stand in front of something that hundreds of people worked on for years and would be on the surface of Mars within 6 months.
The launch window ran from 4:05 am - 6 am. After managing a few hours of sleep I got up at 2 am and headed to the viewing site. I had previously driven around town using an elevation app on my phone looking for a spot that was above 600 feet. I found a spot off the road that was over 900 feet elevation and was hoping for the best. Once we arrived, it was clear that the fog was going to be an issue, but we had our fingers crossed we would at least see the glow of the rocket. As 4:05 approached we heard the countdown on the radio and could hear and feel the launch, but unfortunately couldn't see anything even though we were only a few miles away. Below is a youtube video taken by the up close cameras so you can see it blasting off through the fog layer. I was hoping to have personal video to take back to my classroom and show my students, but this is what I showed them instead.
Even though I didn't get to see the launch, it was an incredible experience I will never forget. I am hoping to drive back out to Vandenberg later this year to try my luck at another launch viewing. (If you want to see NASA's upcoming launch schedule, look here).
Some other people from my NASA social group drove out of town to a mountain range to get better photos of the launch. This time lapse photo of the launch was taken by Andy Fortson and is STUNNING. Check out his instagram @AndyFortson!
This is a great inquiry lab for your physics unit! In this activity students will be asked to figure out which of the following variables affect the period of the pendulum swing: the mass, the length of the string, or the angle the pendulum is released from.
All you need for this lab is: string, a ring stand (or other object to hang the string from) a stopwatch, a protractor, and some hanging masses. Don't have hanging masses? You can hang a cup instead and add pennies or marbles for weight (see the images below).
I gave the students 2 days to complete this lab. The first day they just played around with the pendulums and tried to figure out which variable affected the pendulum swing. The second day I had them time the swings, record data, and make conclusions. It was a great introduction to my unit on motion! If you'd like to check out the 2 day lab write-up I made, it is available in my TpT store.
I hope your students enjoy this lab as much as mine did!
Physics is really exciting to teach because there are so many fun labs you can do. After teaching students about speed, velocity, and acceleration I wanted to do a STEM lab to follow up the unit. I decided to have students build a parachute out of a plastic grocery store bag and gave them a goal of keeping it in the air as long as possible. It was not only fun for them but the materials were super inexpensive! I supplied string and tape, and they had to supply the bag and any other materials they wanted to add. You are welcome to set size or material restrictions but I chose not to. I gave them one class period to build (if they didn't finish they had to finish at home) and we tested the following day. When testing the parachutes I tied a GI Joe to the bottom to add some mass but you are welcome to use whatever you have handy (metal washers work great too).
Our school is 2 stories so the students dropped their parachutes from the 2nd story. When they went to drop the parachutes they had 1 rule: No throwing the parachute up in the air. They had to hold their hands straight out horizontal and drop straight down.
Each group got to drop their parachute 2 times. They had to calculate the speed of the drop (distance / time) and acceleration (Vf - Vi) / t. Overall they had a blast and I had some silly prizes for the winner of each class period. If you would like to check out the lab worksheet I used CLICK HERE. Have fun!