Virtual Exploration of Motion

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Students will induce, through virtual data, the relationship between position, velocity, and slopes.

Big Idea

The motion of an object can be described by its position and velocity graphs.


Today's lesson provides an opportunity for students to progress despite the fact that I am out of the classroom attending a conference. Fortunately, we are deep enough into the year that students have a well-developed ability to self-direct. Today, they are asked to pursue a set of ideas using an on-line simulator that is focused on some introductory concepts in the area of kinematics and which extends our thinking from the previous lesson. As this is self-paced, students will move from that activity to studying for an upcoming quiz in electromagnetics as they are ready.

The notions of position, velocity, and acceleration are important stepping stones for the achievement of NGSS Performance Expectation HS-PS2-1. The idea that these physical characteristics are related to one another via the mathematical construct of "slopes" provides an opportunity for students to mathematically model. As a result, students are engaged in the practices of developing and using models and using mathematical thinking (Science & Engineering practices #2 and #5 respectively).

Simulation Exercise: Constant Velocity and Constant Acceleration Cases

50 minutes

Students access computers - either their own or ones that are available in the back of my room - and follow the directions of the handout. Though they may work in small groups, each student is responsible for submitting his or her own responses.

The activity ("Moving Man") is available from the University of Colorado's PhET project. The simulation allows students to observe a character in motion and link his movements to position and velocity graphs. Students pursue questions related to constant velocity and constant acceleration cases of the moving character.

Here's a sample of data collected, with a corresponding graph, for the constant velocity case:

This is followed, a bit later, with data for an accelerating object:

Students get an early glimpse at the differences between the constant velocity and the constant acceleration cases of motion. This virtual exploration, though a task students can do without direct oversight, is just a bit beyond what I would expect my students to immediately internalize. In the next lesson, therefore, I double back to the idea of slopes and how they are used to generate velocity graphs from position graphs. 

Study for Electromagnetics Quiz

30 minutes

As we have an upcoming quiz on Electromagnetics, I provide some time for my students to prepare. They have previously received a Mock Quiz whose problems are replicated, in a slightly altered form, on the actual quiz. In addition, solutions to the mock quiz are posted electronically. 

Students move into this activity only after completing the simulation. In this way, the lesson is self-paced. Students are encouraged to collaborate and to check the electronic solutions. As I am not in attendance, the attention to the task clearly depends upon individual student motivation. Students continue in this mode until the end of class.