Research Paper: Using Angry Birds to Model Projectile Motion

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Students will begin writing research papers to meet the written component of the performance-based assessment and task graduation requirements for physics.

Big Idea

Analyzing data and synthesizing scientific information from multiple sources about projectile motion into a clearly written paper is an essential skill for learning and practicing physics.


The goal of this lesson is to help students learn that synthesizing information from more than one credible source is an effective way to communicate scientific information. Students research concepts related to projectile motion using the NGSS Practice of Constructing Explanations (SP6) using a research paper to compare and contrast key factors that affect the range of a projectile. This lesson addresses the W.11-12.4, W.11-12.10, and W.11-12.1d standards as a way to effectively compose a scientific paper based on information gathered from various media and sources. This lesson also addresses HSF-BF.A.1a standard when students determine the horizontal range, time of flight and maximum height of a projectile given the mathematical context for a set of launches. 

Students assess the credibility of a source by checking if: 

  • Journal or publisher is well-known or peer-reviewed 
  • The author has been cited by other academics 
  • The content is pertinent to their topic

Students begin by creating a first draft of a research paper based on a writing guide. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins, and will assess each student's work at the end of the school day. 

I want students to learn to integrate information from various points of this course into a coherent research paper. This relates to Science Practice 6 because students have to leverage skills like the data analysis, annotation and summarizing in order to build an effective scientific paper. Before we transition to the lesson, I discuss the results of the previous lesson's closing activity. In particular I note that students highlighted that working in pairs and checking in with classmates before asking me for help was beneficial ways to stay on task while preparing for the oral defense. I request that students ask three peers for help before asking me for assistance. I make an exception for students asking clarifying questions. 


5 minutes

This portion of the lesson follows a routine to help students focus on the goals of the lesson. At the beginning of each lesson, I have a quick Bell-ringer activity to help students focus on the tasks for today's lesson. Today's additional piece of information is a BIG IDEA which states analyzing data and synthesizing scientific information from multiple sources into a clearly written paper is an essential skill for learning and practicing physics. I summarize the key ideas through the bell-ringer activity to the class and take attendance while students transfer the projected information into their notebooks.

The objective of the lesson is for students to write the first draft of their research papers for the Performance Based Assessment Task in Physics. In this lesson, I want students to get ready to use information gathered from different lab activities, notes and information from credible sources to craft a scientific paper. 

Writing Guide

30 minutes

During this section, I project a journal article on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. Students read this article to determine the structure of a well-written journal article and to make connections to their prior knowledge. I ask students to write down 5 characteristics of a good journal article in their notebooks. Student responses include: "A short descriptive title", "Clear, easy to read text", "Graphs and Charts", "Conclusions" and "Sources." This routine activates their prior knowledge about key aspects of a research paper.

I inform students that strong research papers are peer-edited and have a number of sources. Good research papers are also revised multiple times based on feedback from a trusted editor with a strong background in mathematical and scientific reasoning. In addition, a strong paper uses charts and graphs effectively to communicate trends or patterns in data.

During the next ten minutes, I lead students through a Writing Guide that covers the writing requirements for this assignment. I distribute Chromebooks and share the organizer with the entire class. Students spend the last ten minutes of this portion of the lesson looking at the template and asking clarifying questions about the process that they will undertake.

Initial Draft of Student Research Papers

35 minutes

The purpose of this assignment is to show students that using information from multiple sources to construct an explanation helps to illustrate understanding of a topic at a deeper level than students may have had at the beginning of the semester. Students work in pairs of their choice to create their first draft of three. Each draft will be due two weeks apart. Students typically work with their elbow neighbors. In the case of an odd pairing, a student works with another student from a different section of their choice. As students are creating their first drafts I walk around checking-in with students as they progress.

During the next thirty minutes, students complete the first draft of their research papers. Students will submit three drafts of this paper, either by scanning their written work and uploading it to google docs which they share with me or by typing and sharing a written draft with me through google docs. I provide feedback using the comments feature and students resubmit a draft for editing at the end of each two week period. 

To complete the first draft students answer the writing prompts in the projectile motion Writing Guide. Students use information from our openStax textbook and sources they find on google scholar. I provide hard and digital copies for students to choose from. Some pairs work together using google docs, other pairs compose an initial draft by writing on the paper copy of the projectile motion writing guide. Some partners divide the work: one partner may work on background research while the other partner gathers different data sets to analyze to record on the team's writing guide. Click here to see an example of student work for the initial draft.

At the end of this section, I pause and ask students to return the materials they used during this section to the front resource station. A resource manager returns each material to a bin or labeled drawer so that they are readily available the next time the materials are needed.


10 minutes

The closure activity for this section asks students to write down one area where they were successful in today's lesson and one are where they felt challenged during today's lesson in their notebooks. Student responses include: "I was able to use to create citations", "I gathered data from my labs", "I completed background research", "I need help typing my equations", "I do not only want to have one source", and "I may need another partner, she did not write anything on our google doc".

This type of closure activity asks students to identify points of weakness in their understanding and tools that may help them be successful in producing a well-written paper on projectile motion.