Vectors in Physics

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Students will be able to find the components, magnitude, and direction of resultant vectors.

Big Idea

A review of vectors kicks off a unit on projectile motion!


Because my students have had vectors as part of our math curriculum, today's lesson is meant to refresh their memories. Vectors are applied throughout the projectile motion unit when students analyze the components of velocity and distance traveled, so it's crucial that students are able to recognize vectors as having magnitude and direction (HSN-VM). Today's lesson starts by assessing students' prior knowledge of adding and subtracting vectors with a ranking task (HS-PS2-1). This teaching strategy challenges students to apply their vector knowledge before working through a vector treasure hunt and summative assessment (SP5).  

Introduction with a Ranking Activity

10 minutes

When students walk into class today's ranking task is already projected onto the screen at the front of the room. I choose this specific task because it asks students to apply vectors to relative velocity situations, which is something we covered in the first unit of this course. The task is definitely a challenge and I'm not overly concerned if students struggle. The specific goal with this introduction is to get students thinking about how vectors are useful in physics.

Once the students are settled, I read the instructions from the top of the activity. My reading of the instructions is to ensure students understand that class has started. I emphasize to students that they should work individually and take about 5 minutes to rank the graphs, explain their reasoning, and then assess their level of confidence. During these 5 minutes of work time, I walk around the room and informally assess how students are doing with simple glances at their work. My changes in location help students stay quiet and focused.  

When the 5 minutes are over, I reveal the answers to the students by writing them onto the front screen:  D, F, B=E, A=C. I then ask if anyone got all of the answers in the correct order. This student had the right solution and was willing to share with the rest of the class. After he completed his explanation, which was of proper depth, I ended the introductory activity by asking if anyone was in need of further clarification. Because the goal of this activity was to encourage students to think about vectors and how they can be applied in physics, the students keep their work to use as a reference throughout today's activity.

Vector Practice with a Treasure Hunt

30 minutes

Today's activity allows students to practice drawing vectors and then analyze their components to find the magnitude and direction of a resultant vector. Students will work individually on this assignment because the use of vectors and their components is such an essential skill in AP Physics. My students are at lab tables however, so they are able to discuss ideas and questions with each other throughout the work time.

I pass out the vector treasure hunt so that each student receives a copy. The activity sheet is meant to serve as a guide for what students need to accomplish. During previous classes, I've already set the expectation that the data table and drawings be completed on a separate sheet of paper.  

While students are working, I walk around with the vector treasure hunt answer key to ensure they are actively engaged in the learning process. To me, this means they are making progress in working through the treasure hunt by drawing, calculating, or having a meaningful discussion with someone at their lab table. I'm also spot checking their work and asking questions such as "What's the difference between east of north and north of east?" or "What's the importance of a displacement vector that connects the start point to the end point?"


Vector Homework

10 minutes

My students often work through the treasure map activity at different paces, so the end of class today will not have a group closure session.  Instead, as students turn in their completed assignments, they pick up a copy of the vector homework.  The goal of this homework is to offer a summative assessment on students' understanding of vectors.  It is to be completed by each individual student on a separate sheet of paper.  I will collect the assignment at the next class period and grade it for accuracy with an answer key.

As students finish the activity, they may begin to work collaboratively on the homework.  This type of closure allows students to ask questions and not feel pressured to finish the vector treasure hunt in a set amount of time.  I walk around 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.