Skate Parks and Energy Transformations

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SWBAT: Investigate and explain the energy transformations of a skatepark.

Big Idea

Deepening conceptual understanding requires multiple experiences with the same phenomenon and then allow students to analyze the evidence, finding relationships along the way.


The goal of this lesson is to help deepen my students' understanding of potential and kinetic energy, while tying in energy transformations. Using the Skate Park Simulation offered by PhET, students participate in the simulation and collect evidence by recording the outcomes of different investigations in their science notebook.

The main strategy utilized is Predict, Explain, Observe, Explain (P.E.O.E.). I don't just want my students to mess around with the simulation, I want them to make strategic, scientific changes to their investigations, predict what will happen and then learn from the results.  At the conclusion of class students will have ample data to sift through, in order to make connections to energy transformations and what they learned from this lesson.

Using PhET Simulation to Build Understanding

40 minutes

I begin by acquainting students with how to navigate the PhET simulation.  Teachers should review the simulation, so that they are familiar with the parts.  I explain that students will be using P.E.O.E. for each change that they make to the simulation.  We review the importance of changing only one variable.  Students begin the simulation by participating in the 'Intro' to become acquainted with the parts of the simulation and data that is available to them.  I emphasize the importance of hitting the pause button at various points to allow students to collect accurate data.

On the right-hand side of the simulation there are 3 track setups.  It is important that you have students perform multiple P.E.O.Es for each track setup, changing the mass for each test.  

Once students have completed the 'Intro' section, they can move onto the Friction and Playground portions, performing the same P.E.O.E. format for each test that they run.  

This Skatepark Overview video shows how the simulation works and tips on how to support students as they collect evidence.

Students Investigate and Collect Data Using P.E.O.E.

40 minutes

As students are performing each test, it is important that teachers circulate around the room to make sure that students are completing their P.E.O.E for each test and ensure that they are changing only one variable.  I often find that students want to mess around within the simulation, so I am constantly reminding students to  slow down and collect evidence.  Once students realize the importance of using irrefutable evidence to support their claims, they stop rushing and begin recording even the most minute details.

This video is an overview of PEOE: