Ramping up Forces

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Students will be able to analyze the motion of an object on a ramp.

Big Idea

Today we ramp up our knowledge of forces with a PhET Simulation.


Now that students have a clear understanding of how Newton's Second Law can be applied in 2-dimensions from the previous lesson, today's goal is to explore forces of an object on a ramp (HS-PS2-1). Students begin by watching a short video on ramp forces and then use a simulation to visualize and analyze those forces (SP2 & SP4). The simulation gives students (working in pairs) an opportunity to see forces in 1-dimension, before adding friction and then incorporating a ramp. Finally, the lesson ends with students participating in an ABC summary that allows them to creatively express what they've learned.

Introduction with a Video

15 minutes

Because there are so many resources out there and my students will be active for the rest of the lesson, I decide to use this Khan Academy video to introduce forces in ramp situations. While we discussed 2-dimensional forces in the previous lesson, this lesson requires students to apply their knowledge specifically to ramp situations. It is the goal of this video introduction to provide students with a concise and straight-forward look at the forces involved in ramps. The video has detailed force diagrams and offers an example similar to what students experience in the next part of this lesson. Also, when I use a Khan Academy video I remind my students that this is a great resource to supplement what we do in class.

Before I start the video I make sure my expectations are clear: students need to be sitting quietly, listening and watching the video, and taking notes on meaningful material. To me, meaningful material includes any reference to previously learned concepts, equations, vocabulary, and examples. While I do not collect their notes, these are an essential resource as students work through the simulation. I am telling my students these expectations as I'm on my way to start the video. 

Forces Simulation Activity

30 minutes

After we've finished watching the video, students use a computer simulation that allows them to be more active in their learning. The simulation allows students to review forces in one-dimension before they visualize forces as household objects are pushed up (and down) a ramp. Specifically, students start by analyzing position, velocity and net force graphs of various objects. Then, students incorporate friction into the simulation and analyze the graphs a second time. This first part of the simulation reviews forces in 1-dimension. Once they are done with that, students begin to work on the 2-dimensional portion of the activity. Here, students describe the forces acting on an object as it slides down a ramp and the time it takes for the object to reach the bottom of the ramp.

Before we start the activity, I assign partners using the random student generator that already has my students' names loaded. By displaying the random generator on the front board, there is an element of suspense as the partners are assigned. Partners work best for this activity so that each student can be actively engaged throughout the work time. Because this activity does not need to be completed outside of class, I feel comfortable in choosing the pairings for my students.

We use MacBook Pro's in my district, so my students are familiar with how the computer and cart organization works. After each pair has been assigned, the students move to sit near each other, push their desks together, and grab a computer. As the computers are booting I pass out the ramp simulation activity so that each student receives a copy. This document directs them to PhET where they will be using the ramp simulation. My activity sheet is also meant to direct the students in their learning so that they are confident in what material needs to be understood. However, the answers to the questions, data tables, and graphs need to be completed on a separate sheet of paper.

While students are working, I walk around to ensure they are actively engaged in the learning process. This means that they are on the proper website, reading or discussing some component of the simulation, and writing down appropriate information from the simulation (here's what a student sample should look like). When I walk around, I'm spot checking their written work and engaging students in questions such as "Have you had time to explore the 'more features' tab yet?" or "What happens if you ask the sim to show the components of each vector?" 

The students' written answers are the most important part of this activity, so I ensure they are thinking through how they will prove any claims they make. I do a lot of walking and questioning throughout their work time to ensure they can justify anything that has been written down.  The AP Physics 1 exam places a lot of emphasis on justifying thought processes, so my goal in our dialogue is to practice with students how to successfully justify their arguments.

When there is approximately 10 minutes prior to the end of class (5 minutes left of the time I've allowed for this activity), I ask students to put the computers back on the cart and return to their seats. I also tell them at this point that the lab is due at the start of the next class meeting. Once everyone is back in their seats, we are ready to move into the closure activity for our lesson.

ABC Summary

5 minutes

Since we don't have much time today, as a quick closure I assign each student a letter of the alphabet. I usually choose the person closest to me and give her A, then the next person B, and so on. Students then have about a minute to think of a word that begins with their assigned letter to describe the introductory video or the simulation. After they've been given a minute to think, I point to the student who had A to share his word. Then, we go around the room until everyone has shared. In the past, if a student has struggled we pause and think of a word as a class to help that person out.  

This word list is an example of what students shared. Not only did it give me the satisfaction of knowing that they were able to reference topics from the video, but it also gave me insight into what students learned from the simulation. Some parts of the list that are in parentheses because it wasn't clear to me why the student chose that word and I asked for clarification.