Exploring Newton's Second Law

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Students will collect virtual data and induce a rule regarding force, mass, and acceleration.

Big Idea

We expand our understanding of objects in motion from "how" to "why" objects move.


Remarkably, for the third day in a row, I am absent from this Physics class! Today, though healthy, I am presenting at a science teacher's conference, fulfilling a commitment I made several months ago. Students receive instructions from me and work on a virtual lab where they are asked to induce a rule between force, mass, and acceleration. This is the final step - after studying objects in motion and mastering position, velocity, and acceleration ideas - toward the demonstration of NGSS Performance Expectation HS-PS2-1. By using a virtual lab, students engage in several of the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices.

Introduction to Force Simulation

15 minutes

My substitute provides my students with a set of directions, including thoughts about using a simulation. I want students to navigate to this website. Once there, I want them to understand how this simulation can be used. They are directed to a 5-minute video that demonstrates some of the most critical tools and observations. Students can access the video with any of their personal devices and are encouraged to gather in small groups to watch the video. My goals are to direct them to the best way to set up the simulation and to identify the tools that can be accessed to make measurements. Once they are comfortable, they can begin the exploration.



Student Inquiry - Force & Motion Investigation

60 minutes

My substitute distributes the handout for today's explorations. Once students have familiarized themselves with the site through my video, they use the simulation to explore the interaction of force, mass, and acceleration. My hope is that students can induce Newton's Second Law of Motion (Fnet = m*a), a major goal of the NGSS. (HS-PS2-1)

The page they work with looks like this:

Students choose an applied force and, in the first exploratory activity, work with the idealized case of no friction (by choosing "Ice" in the upper right-hand portion of the screen). They collect a small set of observations, fill out a table of results, and suggest a relationship between the applied force, the mass, and the resulting acceleration. 

Next, they explore whether their suggested rule holds up to scrutiny by varying the masses and applied forces. 

In the second activity, they add in friction and explore what happens when there are multiple, competing, forces. Similar to the first activity, they collect data, make observations, promote a possible relationship, and test their prediction.

Students continue in this mode until they finish their explorations. Their work will be used as a starting point for a discussion in our next class.