Amazing Acceleration

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Students will explore the concept of acceleration by taking notes and solving practice problems.

Big Idea

Today we define acceleration and connect it to velocity.

Acceleration Attention Grabber

5 minutes

As students are entering the classroom, I stand at the door to say hello to them and have each person grab a folded piece of paper from a box I'm holding. I've already numbered each piece of paper, cut them, folded them, and mixed them up. This is how I plan to group my students for the velocity review, so there is a number in there for each student. For example, if I have 20 students in my class, I have numbers 1 through 20 in the box.  

Also, I like to pique students' interest in acceleration by showing a quick video on the 10 fastest accelerating roller coasters in the world. The music is energizing and there isn't any narration, so the video is fun to play as students get settled and get their homework out.

Velocity Review

10 minutes

During the previous class, students learned to define motion. They were assigned to work on problem B1 from the released 2000 Free Response portion of the AP Physics B exam and they were encouraged to do so with my previously established free response suggestions. Using the numbers the students got as they entered the room, I put numbers 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, etc. into groups. My goal is to have no more than 3 students in a group to ensure everyone properly participates.

This review allows students to share solutions to problem B1 and create a list that includes concepts covered, used equations, and key vocabulary words. They will do this using two different 24"x24" whiteboards and I demonstrate for them on my front board how I want each board to look. They'll have 10 minutes to debrief the problem and prepare their boards, and then each group shares with the rest of the class.  

After the sharing process has been described, students will move around the room to meet with their groups in a comfortable location. They need to get their whiteboards and dry erase markers from the front of the room. Once I visually assess that everyone has their boards and appears to be settled into a good location, I set an egg timer at the front of the room for 10 minutes. Setting this timer lets students know how much time they have left and keeps the activity progressing along. As the students work, I circulate around the room and ask questions such as "why did you use _________ equation" or "on a scale of 1-10, how confident are you in your answer."

As soon as the timer goes off, I sit in the back of the room and select one of the groups to go to the front to share. I sit in the back and try to remain quiet throughout the presentations to give students the full glory of being in the spotlight. Today I start with the highest numbered group to go first and work our way back towards group 1-3. Each presentation should last just about a minute.  

When each group is finished presenting, each student receives sample solutions to the problem with the scoring guidelines. The scoring guidelines show how students earn points based on different solutions, so there is a full credit solution (15 points), and 2 partial credit solutions (with scores of 12 and 10). Students then erase their whiteboards, return the boards and the markers to the front of the room, and get ready to begin today's activity.

Acceleration Exploration Activity

20 minutes

Because I know that my students have had physical science as part of their past schedules, I assume that they have a working knowledge of acceleration. So, I now allow students to choose a partner and take a computer from the cart at the front of the room. We use MacBook Pro's in my district and each department has a cart that can be shared, so my students are also familiar at this point with how the computer and cart organization works. I decide to let students choose their partner since I placed them in groups at the start of the class. I find that a nice balance between teacher-directed groups and student-directed groups keeps for a more enjoyable learning environment. 

As the computers are booting and after students have pushed their desks together with their partner, I direct students to go to my website and download the acceleration exploration document. This document is a guideline that helps students identify the absolute minimum material they should record into their physics notebooks. Once they've opened the document, the students follow the link to the Acceleration Section of the Physics Classroom. At this website and still in their pairs, students read through the text and use the document to guide them through the goals of understanding. I let students know that they can read aloud or individually, but the point of them being in pairs is to discuss and determine the most important parts of the text.  

While students are working, I walk around with the answer key to ensure they are actively engaged in the learning process. To me, this means that they are on the proper website, reading or discussing some component of acceleration, and writing down a thorough set of notes. When I walk around, I spot check their written work and engage students in questions such as "So what are some similarities between velocity and acceleration?" or "Is acceleration dependent upon distance or displacement and why?" I also use this time to build rapport with students and attempt to make the material meaningful to the individual. For example, if I know a student is currently in cross country season, I might ask him or her "At what point in your run do you have the greatest acceleration and at what point do you have the least?"  


15 minutes

My students often work through the acceleration reading activity at different paces, so the end of class today will not have a group closure session. Instead, as each group feels that they have properly completed their notes, I ask each individual to show me those notes. In doing this, I hold each student accountable for his or her learning and check to ensure that the task was properly completed. If a student has not accurately or effectively completed the task, I send both people back to the computer to finish. I hold the pair accountable even if only one student's notes are not up to par since the purpose of the pairing was to collaboratively learn.

If the notes are complete, I verbally ask each student a question to check for understanding. These are simple questions that I've compiled beforehand and are meant to be solved orally with no calculator. I've come up with 12 different questions to ensure each student gets a different question. If a student gets the answer right, they are given a copy of the homework and sent back to their desk to begin work. If the student is unable to answer the question, I ask him to go back to his desk and review the notes. The process of the student reviewing his notes is meant to refresh the concepts before taking another attempt at the question. I tend to be a stickler during this process and do not give the student "credit" for a correct answer unless it includes the proper units.  

The acceleration homework is a compilation of problems that have been modified from Holt's Physics and Etkina's College Physics. The goal of this homework is to offer a summative assessment on students' understanding of displacement, velocity, and acceleration. It is to be completed by each individual student on a separate sheet of paper and collected at the next class period. I usually grade this assignment for accuracy with an answer key. As students finish the acceleration activity, they may begin work on the homework. Homework work time in my class looks and sounds like a newsroom in that everyone seems to be doing their own thing, but when you listen to what they ask a neighbor, you know they are on task. I continue to walk around and monitor the class during this work time so that I can answer any questions and ensure that students are on task. My expectation, set at the start of the year so that students are aware of it, is that students productively work until the bell rings.