Skate Park Energy

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Students learn the concepts of kinetic and potential energy as they explore a skateboard simulation.

Big Idea

Energy is conserved and changes from one type to another.

Energy Unit Introduction

5 minutes

As we begin this new unit, I give students a taste of what is to come. Using the Energy goals power point, I display the opening slide. It asks the basic questions of the unit: What is energy? What forms/types of energy are there? Why should you care about energy?

Then I inform them that they will learn the answers to these questions through two major projects that will be done during this unit. One is the students will design their very own roller coaster using the concept of kinetic energy, potential energy and conservation of energy. The second is major project is track the energy transformation that happen as it is created in the center of the sun and makes its way to us here on Earth where we use that energy in many different ways. 

Today's activity is an online simulator where students explore conservation of energy as a skater rides a u-shaped ramp. This involves NGSS HS-PS3-2 where students Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of an object and energy associated with the relative position of an objects. NGSS HS-ETS1-4 is also applied as students use a computer simulation to model a real-world situation. Also used are Science Practice 4: Analyzing and interpreting data and Science Practice 7: Engaging in argument from evidence as students justify their conclusions from the data collected. The lesson concludes with students calculating velocities and heights given the total energy. NGSS Science Practice 5: Using mathematics and computational thinking is applied here.

Energy Skate Park

20 minutes

Today's activity uses the PhET online simulator titled Energy Skate Park. Students explore conservation of energy as a skater rides a u-shaped ramp.  I give a short demo on how to open the simulator, its features and the settings to use. The internet simulator is by the University of Colorado and is one of many interactive science simulators present at PhET

Students work in groups of 2 students, where each group gets the Energy Skate Park to complete. I use cooperative learning for this activity because students in cooperative groups yields a positive effect on overall learning. I keep groups small so that each student has a role and is engaged. Students are free to choose their own partners.

Students use the energy graphs on the simulator to make observations on how the energy changes from potential to kinetic and back again. The goal is for them to learn that the total energy of the system remains constant. They construct their understanding of energy conservation with multiple representations on this worksheet that include graphs and written explanations.

Once student complete this sheet, they bring it up to me so I can check their understanding. If they understand that energy is conserved and that potential energy is the energy of position and kinetic energy the energy of motion, they move onto the next activity, which is to quantitatively apply conservation of energy to a roller coaster. 

Mouse Sized Roller Coaster

25 minutes

When students finish the simulator worksheet, they bring their results and I check their work and their understanding of kinetic energy, potential energy and how they are conserved. This involves the application of NGSS Science Practice 4: Analyzing and interpreting data as students have to make observations about the total amount of energy and how it remains constant but shifts from potential to kinetic and back again.

If they understand those basic concepts and have the correct formulas, I give them the next activity sheet, Mouse Roller Coaster. With this sheet, students work independently to solve the missing kinetic energy and potential energy values. The sheet gives the total energy of the roller coaster (10 joules) and they have have to apply conservation of energy to determine the missing values. They also use the formula for kinetic energy to determine the velocity at specific points and the gravitational potential energy formula to determine the height at specific points. I choose a "mouse sized" roller coaster so that the numbers involved for the total energy (10 joules), kinetic energy and potential energy are small and easily calculated. The focus is the application of the conservation of energy and large numbers can distract students from that focus.

Before class finishes, we review the front of the Mouse Roller Coaster. I display the solution with my document camera and have students check their work. I then ask students volunteers to supply the kinetic energy formula solved for velocity and the potential energy formula solved for height (needed to complete the worksheet). If students do not finish this worksheet during class, then they are to complete it for homework. The next class period, we will review the rest of this sheet.

For homework, I give students the Homework- Kinetic and Potential Energy worksheet. This assignment gives additional practice applying kinetic energy and potential energy equations as well as simple conservation of energy problems.