Kinetic and Potential Energy Lab Rotation

102 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles, construct and interpret graphical displays of their data and construct, use, and present arguments to support a claim.

Big Idea

Students explore kinetic energy in a lab rotation by creating spool racers, creating 'craters' with marbles and flour, and measuring how different types of matter heat up at different rates!

Introduction and Connection to the NGSS and Common Core

This lab rotation requires two days to complete.  Students develop an understanding of the importance of citing textual evidence to strengthen a claim as they construct written responses based on a series of lab stations focusing on kinetic energy and energy transfer.

This lesson is geared to target the following NGSS and Common Core Standards:

MS-PS3-1  Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object. 

MS-PS3-2  Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system.

MS-PS3-4  Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample.

MS-PS3-5  Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. 

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.1  Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.3  Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B  Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.

Science and Engineering Practices:

In the lab rotation, students carry out investigations and procedures to answer questions (SP3).  As students explore the relationship between mass, velocity, and kinetic energy, they construct graphical displays of data to create linear relationships (SP4).  Moreover, as students write an explanation (SP6) of their findings after completing this activity, students construct written arguments supported by data and scientific reasoning (SP7).

Cross Cutting Concepts:

This lab rotation also can provide students with practice in Cross Cutting Concepts of “Scale, Proportion, and Quantity”, “Systems and Models” , and “Energy and Matter”.  Students throw marbles of different masses and velocities to measure and create linear and proportional relationships between mass, velocity, and kinetic energy (CCC Scale, Proportion, and Quantity).  Students use spool racers as a model that can show the input and output of energy and track how energy flows within the system (CCC Systems and Models).  As they notice the relationship between potential and kinetic energy, students notice that energy may take different forms and that the transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows (CCC Energy and Matter).

Warm Up: Potential Energy Formative Assessment

10 minutes

Provide students with the Formative Assessment.  Make sure that students complete this independently because this gives you usable data because it is a demonstration of each student's actual level of understanding.  I take these formative assessments and sort them into stacks of similar learners and then conference with them in groups in an upcoming lesson.

This formative assessment is a check for understanding after a previous series of lab stations. Check out Potentially Amazing Lab Station Rotation to see the background my students have had prior to completing this formative assessment.  In addition, this same lesson takes the students through a mini lesson of how to develop an effective diagram including purpose, a title, labels, and a caption.

This student includes a title, caption, and labels that serve the purpose of the question.  The title includes science vocabulary that serve the purpose.  As opposed to something like "elevators" the student uses "Gravitational Potential Energy In Systems".  The labels of "More GPE" and "Less GPE" also serve to aid in the reader's understanding of the relationship.  In adding labels, students often label insignificant things.  It may seem silly, but because they know they are supposed to add labels, some students label things like "windows" and "building".  Labels must be used to further the reader's understanding.  The caption also clearly explains the relationship of the height of the elevator and the amount of gravitational potential energy.  Last, the student based this diagram on a situation outside of the lab.  While citing examples from labs is important, at this point, I want students to be able to apply their own understanding to a new situation.

Student responses will vary.  Some students may draw diagrams of gravitational potential energy, while others may use elastic potential energy or magnetic potential energy.

Connecting to the Essential Question: What are you going to learn today?

5 minutes

Ask students, "What are you going to be learning today?".  Students should respond with the essential question, "How does energy transfer through various systems in the natural world?" (I keep this posted on the board.  Students also have it in their Unit Plan).

Explain that the students will specifically be introduced to Skill 4 listed in the Unit Plan:  

4.  I can provide evidence that the amount of energy needed to transfer to change the temperature (average kinetic energy of the particles) of an object depends on the type of matter and the mass of the object.

 Ask the students to take some time to read each skill.  As they read, have them underline the key vocabulary in the skill and circle the key verbs (the words that explain what the students have to be able to do with their learning.).  Then, ask the students to rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 4 (4 being mastery) on each skill and write this number next to the skill on their Unit Plan.

**Important Note:  As this is the beginning of the unit, it is critical that students assess their level of understanding on this day.  Without this original self assessment, it is challenging to chart and monitor growth in each skill.

After ranking themselves, ask students to share with the whole class what they felt that skill was addressing or offer examples from the real world that they could immediately connect to.  This discussion is important in order to ensure that the students actually understand what they are being assessed on.  Often students, share examples such as being at the beach and walking on the hot sand vs. the grass or the water.  Or students might share the idea that something that is bigger will take a longer time to heat up.  Sharing these examples can really help to "prime" the students brain for what they are about to be learning.

In addition, explain to the students that they will be addressing Skill 1 in the Unit Plan as well:

1.  I can construct and analyze graphs, charts, and figures that show the relationship between kinetic energy and the mass and speed of an objects.

At this point, students in my room have already assessed themselves on this skill.  As them to take a moment to change the number they had previously given themselves if they feel like a change is need or they have grown in mastery of the skill.

Then, ask the students to make as many connections during the lab to the following ideas/concepts:

1.  The relationship between the speed and kinetic energy of an object.

2.  The relationship between the mass and the kinetic energy of an object.

3.  How different types and amounts of matter heat up differently than others.

Remind them if at any point during the lab they connect to any of these ideas, they should share that connection with you or a fellow student!

Mini Lesson Day 1: Citing Evidence to Strengthen a Claim

15 minutes

In this exercise, I state a claim to the students and ask them what they would need to know from me in order to believe it.

I state, "I am a basketball expert."

I choose to use basketball because I have a lot of background and experience with it.  You may choose something completely different.  When choosing your claim, make it about a topic that is relatable to middle school students.  The topic could be something that you are an expert in or have little to no experience in.  For example, I considered choosing the claim, "I am a gaming expert."  Contrary to my experience with basketball, I have no experience with gaming.  The conversation would flow differently, but the same point would get across.  You choose a scenario you feel comfortable with.

After stating that I am a basketball expert, I ask the students what they would need to know from me in order to believe me.  I explain that as we determine what would be required for the students to believe that I am a basketball expert, we will make connections to what scientists must include to support a scientific claim.

I open the floor up to the class to ask me questions about what they would need to know from me in order to believe my claim.  

Students and myself typically go through the following exchanges:

Student:  Have you ever played before?

Me:  Yes!  I have played since I was old enough to dribble.  I played in elementary, middle school , high school and then in college.

Me:  So, what I take from that question is that you need to know that I have first hand experience with the claim I am making.  In scientific writing, this may be referring to an experiment, lab or real world phenomena.  Citing these examples help strengthen the reader's belief in your claim.

Student:  When you played, were you good?

Me:  Well, as a high school senior, I averaged 29 points per game and broke the school record for points scored in a career with over 2,000 points in total. 

Me:  What I took from that question is that you wanted  specific data that backed up my claim.  Including specific numbers and measurements can help support science claims as well.  When scientists have data they have collected, they use it in their explanations.

Student:  Where did you get your basketball knowledge?  Or, why do you think you know a lot about basketball?

Me:  I have had the pleasure of learning from some fabulous teachers.  My dad, Dave Dalton, has won more games than any other women's basketball coach in northern Michigan.  My college coach, Mike Geary, received "Coach of the Year" awards.  In addition, I have attended many conferences and gotten instruction from coaches like "Tom Izzo" and "Jim Beileine".

Me:  What I took from that question was that you wanted to know that I received my information from credible sources.  Offering names like Izzo and Beileine helped gain your respect.  The same is true in scientific writing.  However, authors and text sources are your "names" you need to use.  Citing texts by titles and authors by names with evidence found in the text can help the reader believe your claim.  

Student:  Can you show us you are good at basketball?

Me:  Now, in the classroom that is difficult to do.  But I could show you a video of me playing. (I play a short clip.)

Me:  I took that question to mean that a visual representation of my claim is helpful.  In scientific writing, you can do this by adding diagrams and models of the science you are explaining.

My hope from this discussion is that four aspects of citing evidence to support a claim come out in this discussion:

1.  Examples from labs

2.  Specific data

3.  Citing text and authors

4.  Including visual models or diagrams

Remember, you have control of the conversation!  Even if the students do not ask the exact questions you are looking for, you can respond to them in a way that helps the discussion move forward.  By saying, "I took that question to mean" can provide you with that lee-way to interpret questions as you need.

Remind students to think of these four ways of supporting their claims as they write their lab responses.  

Mini Lesson Day 2: Constructing Graphs and Citing Data as Evidence

15 minutes

Remind students that in the previous day's lesson, students recognized the need for data as evidence.  Let them know that they will be investigating the best way that data can be communicated as evidence.

On the board or projector, present the students with the following data table.  This is data related to a previous lab and previous graphing activity from previous lessons.  (Check out the Rubber Band Cannon Lab and Catapult Lab this relates to!)  I like using this data table as it helps connect understanding to previous lessons; however, you could use a different set of data if you wished.  This would mean you would also need to alter the data in the student responses included in the resource for this section.

Provide each pair of two with the following student sample responses.  The first set (1a, 2a, 3a) are written sentences providing data as evidence and the 2nd set (1b, 2b, 3b) are student graphs of data.  Cut each student responses into slips of paper.  I find that cutting the responses into movable slips as opposed to keeping them all on one sheet of paper is most effective.

With each of the two sets of responses have the students sort the student work and answer the questions, "When you look at the graph or response, is it stronger than weak or weaker than strong? How do you know?  What characteristics make it stronger?

As each pair sorts the student work, walk around and listen in to their conversations asking for clarifying reasoning about what makes each student resource "stronger than weak" or "weaker than strong".  The key to the success of this activity is that students can verbalize the qualities that make each responses "stronger" or "weaker".  

Have students share for the whole group their reasoning for each student response.  

Student Responses 1a, 2a, 3a:

Student Response 1a  Increasing the angle of launch produces more energy.

Student Response 2a   At an angle of 10 degrees, Student 1 found the rubber band to have a kinetic energy of 1 J while at 40 degrees the Student 1 found the rubber band to have a kinetic energy of 4J.

Student Response 3a   At 10 degrees, the rubber band was 1 J and at 40 degrees there was greater energy.

The key ideas students need to identify in Students 1a, 2a, and 3a include the following:

1.  Compare two data points helps to prove a point or relationship.   (Student 1a and 3a do not do this.  Student 1a does not use any data at all while Student 3a does not include the kinetic energy data from 40 degrees.)

2.  When there is specific data, use it!    (Student 1a does not do this.)

3.  When comparing the two data points, refer to the concept you are defending.  (Student 2a is the only student that refers to kinetic energy as what is being measured.)

Explain that these are keys to completing an effective data comparison statement when using data as evidence.  Explain that these are important things to include in their responses for the labs they began yesterday.  Ask them to take time to revise any data answers from the labs they answered previously if needed.  (It is important to make time for the students to revise here.  I have even found at this point it is effective to have students show their answers they have written down from the previous day that involve data to another student and have the students peer evaluate their data sentences in order to make the correct revisions.)

Student Graphing Responses 1b, 2b, 3b:

Student Response 1b

Student Response 2b

Student Response 3b


Students find that Student 1b's graph is "stronger than weak".  The key ideas students need to identify in the graphs of Students 1b, 2b, and 3b include the following:

1.  Include a title including variables. (Student 2b includes a title but the title does not include the variables measured.  Student 3b does not include a title at all.)

2.  The independent variable is labeled on the x axis. (Student 2b incorrectly places the independent variable on the y axis.  Student 3b has placed the variable correctly, but does not include a label indicating what the variable is.)

3.  The dependent variable is labeled on the y axis. (Student 2b incorrectly places the dependent variable on the x axis.  Student 3b has placed the variable correctly, but does not include a label indicating what the variable is.)

4.  Units are included when available.  (Student 1b is the only student that included (cm) and (degrees) as labels on the appropriate axes.)

5.  When graphing multiple sets of data, include a key. (Student 2b only graphed one set of data.  Student 3b graphed all sets of data but did not include a key.)

Once students have completed this activity, provide them with time to go back and make any necessary changes to the answers they completed in class the previous day.  Most of the questions in the lab document refer to graphing or data comparison so there will probably be edits that they need to make.  I have my students make the revisions they feel is appropriate and then have them swap papers with a peer.  The peer then checks their work to provide any additional feedback to the student that they may have missed.  

After completing this, students continue with the lab stations they have not completed yet.

Kinetic Energy Lab Rotation

60 minutes

Explain to the students that the procedures for each station are included on the lab document. Remind them of the importance of following procedures and following all safety precautions. Emphasize that any station that involves fire requires the use of goggles. In addition, emphasize to the students that the lab document clearly states the skill that each lab station is demonstrating. Students should take time to read the skills involved prior to completing each lab station.  By doing this, they can focus their learning and what they should be connecting to.

Here are the stations and the procedures for each station which are taken straight from the student lab document:

Station 1:  Meteors 


  1.  Make sure the box of flour is dusted with hot chocolate.
  2. Take a marble and drop it from 2 meters above the box.
  3. Measure the crater width.  Record in the data table below.
  4. Take a marble and throw it from 2 meters above the box.
  5. Measure the crater width.  Record in the data table below.

Station 2:  Meteors 


  1. Make sure the box of flour is dusted with cocoa.
  2. Measure the mass of the small and large marbles and record in Figure A.
  3. Take a small marble and drop it from 2 meters above the box.
  4. Measure the crater width.  Record in the data table below.
  5. Take a large marble and drop it from 2 meters above the box.
  6. Measure the crater width.  Record in the data table below.

Station 3:  Kinetic Energy, Mass, and Materials


  1.  Put on a pair of goggles.
  2. Measure the temperature of the steel and regular marbles by touching the tip of the thermometer to the top of the marble.
  3. Heat a beaker of water to 70 C.  Use tongs to remove the beaker from the ring stand.
  4. At the same time, drop the marbles into the beaker of hot water.  Let sit for 2 minutes.
  5. Using tongs, pull the marbles out and take their temperatures again. Record your findings.

Station 4:  Conductometer


  1. Put on a pair of goggles.
  2. Take a small piece of wax in the tiny hole (groove) at the end of each metal spoke.
  3. At the center of the spokes, there are letters.  Based on these letters, label what you think each spoke is made of.
  4. Put the center of the device over the Bunsen burner.
  5. Record the order that the wax melts by putting a number on the line by each spoke on your lab sheet, number 1 being the first to start melting.

Closure: Kinetic Energy Relationships Exit Slip

5 minutes

Have students complete this exit slip/formative assessment.  After assessing them, sort the slips into groups of learners with similar needs and conference in small groups with them in an upcoming lesson.

As mass and velocity increase, the kinetic energy will increase as well.  The conference groups I typically work with in the following lesson include:

1.  Students who show the correct relationship for velocity, but not for mass.  

Students who make this mistake typically draw a line with a negative slope for the Mass Graph.  In most cases, students didn't read the question thoroughly to notice that the velocity is kept constant.  When explaining their reasoning, students in this group say, "I thought when something gets heavier, it would go slower."

2.  Students who show the correct relationship for mass, but not for velocity.

Students who make this mistake typically make the mistake simply due to the fact that they do not have a clear meaning of the word velocity.  After explaining this term, most students understand the appropriate relationship.

3.  Students who miss both relationships and use lines with an undefined or zero slope.

Some students may actually understand the relationship between the variables but do not have a foundation in graphing relationships.  When meeting with this group ask the students to verbalize what their line was meant to show.  You may find that some students just don't understand graphing while others actually do not understand the relationship between mass, velocity, and kinetic energy.

A Look at Student Work

Each of the following videos provides some insight into student work as I look at qualities necessary for mastery and common mistakes that students typically make.

Station 1 Student Work:  Velocity vs Kinetic Energy Meteors

Station 2 Student Work:  Mass vs. Kinetic Energy Meteors

Station 3:  Heating Glass and Steel Marbles

Station 4:  Conductometer