Investigating Newton's First Law of Motion- Inertia

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SWBAT explain how the law of inertia applies to the real world.

Big Idea

Students will investigate how a penny at rest stays at rest until a force is applied and its position changes.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Forces and Motions unit focuses on gravity exerted by Earth on objects, while at rest or during motion. With this in mind, students will investigate types of forces and the effects it has on moving objects. They learn how forces can stop an object from moving, increase or decrease the speed of an object moving, change its direction, and put a resting object into motion. Through models, investigations, research, and the engineering and design process, students learn that gravity is a constant force that impacts an object’s motion. The unit wraps up with students using the engineering and design process to create a zip line to illustrate the effects of gravitational force.

Lesson Synopsis

In this lesson, Newton's First Law of Motion-Inertia, I start off walking around the room for a period of time to demonstrate moving. Students make observations and share them aloud. I connect their observations to key vocabulary used throughout this lesson. To keep track of key terms, students fill out a graphic organizer. I show a quick video, highlighting the main ideas and vocabulary of Newton's first law of motion which students add to their graphic organizer. Next, students investigate this law of motion by taking part in the "High Dive." We engage in a guided discussion and relate parts of the activity to this law of motion-inertia. The lesson wraps up with students applying their learning by creating a poster displaying and explaining three real world examples that relate to Newton's law of motion-inertia. I collect this and use it for a formative assessment.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS2-1.  Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices:

3.) Planning and Carrying Out An Investigation- Students conduct an investigation to produce evidence of Newton's First Law of Motion and use their understanding to create a poster displaying examples from the real world that relate to this law.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Newton's First Law of Motion-Inertia lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

2.) Cause and Effect- Students conduct an investigation to determine the effect of a force applied to an object are rest. They use their observations to understand the effects of force and inertia.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

PS2.A - Forces and Motion

PS2.B-  Types of Interactions


Classroom Management Methods

Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats ” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each activity I use lab rats, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up.  


10 minutes

Initiating Curiosity

First, I hand out white boards and explain to students that they are going to observe me for a period of time. (I am walking around the room) Then I ask them to to think of and write down a one word description on their whiteboard. After they come up with a word, I have them turn and talk with their group members to share and discuss.  Then I ask each group to share out the most common word used to describe what I was doing.  I am looking for students to come to the conclusion that I was moving or in motion.

Then I ask: "What does movement look like?"  I look for students to explain what movement looks like. After a brief discussion I write the word motion on the board and define it :

motion: a change in position in relation to another object.

I hand out Newton's laws vocabulary graphic organizer and explain that we are using this to keep track of key words related to each one of Newton's Laws. They begin in the first box and write the word motion and record the definition from the board. I tell them not to worry about the remaining terms yet, as they will have each box filled in before the end of the lesson.


15 minutes

To remind students of Newton's first law from yesterday's lesson, I direct them to the board where Study jams is projected. I show this partly as a review from yesterday's research and partly to further develop their vocabulary related to Newton's 1st Law of Motion: Inertia.

After the video, I point out all the key words students should recognize in relation to this law of motion. Then I locate the Law of Inertia in the video and pause it so students can record, an object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Then we take a closer look at the terms inertia, rest, and unbalanced force. As we review each one of these terms, I note them on the board as they note them on their Newton's laws of motion graphic organizer.

  • inertia- an object’s resistance to any change in motion.
  • rest- an object does not move, it stays in its place
  • unbalanced forces – unequal forces acting in opposite directions the results in movement in the direction of the larger force.


I tell them to keep this organizer out to use as a reference sheet as they investigate this law of motion.


20 minutes


Now that students have been exposed to some vocabulary, I tell students they are going to explore Newton's Law of Inertia by taking part in the Lincoln High Dive. Using our lab rats roles, I hand out a task card and ask students to set up their interactive notebook. Once our notebooks are set up and the lab rats' material manager retrieves the materials (film canister, a penny, a pre-made cardstock hoop, and a pencil), I review the directions: 

  1. Place the film container on the table.
  2. Place the cardstock hoop on top of the container.
  3. Center the penny on top of the card.


Lincoln High Dive Lincoln High Dive s

Their task is to get the penny inside the canister by only using a pencil to fling the hoop off to the side. (Teacher Note-Here is a good video to illustrate how to do this)

After they complete the task, they answer these questions in their notebook. 

  • What object exhibited a force on the hoop? (the pencil)
  • What force acted on the penny? (gravity)
  • What was at rest during this investigation? (penny and hoop to start; also the canister)
  • What was in motion during this investigation? (hoop and penny)


Post Investigation Explanation-Guided Discussion

After getting the penny in the container, I ask: "How did you get it in there?  I listen for students to share their thoughts. I am looking for them to make the connection to the words force and motion. We review their responses to the questions above.

As part of our discussion, I reiterate that objects and/or people continue to move or stay until something else changes them.  And that when an object or person has a change to their motion, it means a force (push or pull) was applied from something else. It could be from another object, person, gravity, and/or friction. I explain that it is considered a change in motion, which means the motion stopped, started, sped up, slowed down, or went in a new direction. I make sure to connect this to inertia by pointing out that it is difficult to change the motion of an object with a lot of inertia and easier to change an object with a small amount of inertia.

To summarize my explanation, I show this quick video that illustrates the relationship between inertia and motion.


How does the activity relate to Newton's 1st Law of Motion?

I point out that this activity illustrates Newton's First Law of Motion: object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion until an outside force acts upon it.

I want students to reflect and think on this so I ask them to write a response in their interactive notebook to the following: How did this activity relate to Newton's first law?


Their responses should illustrate that the penny was at rest until they exerted a force to move the hoop and made it move into the container.


15 minutes

Connecting Law of Inertia to the Real World

After reflecting on how the activity connected to the Newton's 1st Law of Motion- Inertia, I ask them to think about examples of inertia in the real world.  To encourage them to really think, I pose the question:

How does inertia explain why you should wear a seatbelt in a moving car?  My intention is to have them recognize that during a crash, seat belts stop a person's body from continuing its motion forward.

Now I direct their attention to the front where I hold up poster paper. I explain their task:

  • come up with three other examples that relate to Newton's first law, inertia,
  • state the example, explain how it relates to Newton's first law
  • how would this example be effected if Newton's law did not exist? (how would your life or world be different.


Students work on this for the remainder of class and finish it for homework. I collect it the next day and use as a formative assessment.