Reflection: Developing a Conceptual Understanding Newton's 3rd Law: Newton's Cradle & Expo (9 of 9) - Section 3: Student Activity


I love this activity. First, because it is hidden in the ceiling it seems to magically appear one day. The kids become very excited about being able to eventually touch it. I make a deal with my students, if they can promise to not touch the bowling ball sized Newton's Cradle until they have heard and understood all the safety requirements of a rig of this magnitude, then they will be able to manipulate it however they wish. I make a big deal that if anyone touches it, then that class period looses it - FOREVER! In eight years I've only had one kid gently rub the cradle. The first day is the hardest. Once they understand how dangerous it is, they walk around it.

Second, it really shows Newton's 3rd Law in action. If you raise one bowling ball and release it, then one bowling ball reacts at the other end, and so on with two bowling balls. The real learning takes place when I ask students what I should do next. Since there are a total of five bowling balls on the rig they always ask me to raise three bowling balls, realizing there are only two remaining bowling balls left to react. They really don't know what to expect. When I release three bowling balls the middle bowling ball and the remaining two bowling balls shoot out as a reaction. Three bowling balls are the action and three bowling balls are the reaction. See video below.

Finally, the students are thrilled to be able to manipulate something of such strength. Because of the way I built this rig the students can't hurt the cradle. The only concern is their safety. If you teach them the 'dos' and 'don't' of acceptable behavior they actually follow directions. If you have the means I highly suggest you build a bowling ball sized Newton's Cradle. 

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  Developing a Conceptual Understanding: Reason for this activity
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Newton's 3rd Law: Newton's Cradle & Expo (9 of 9)

Unit 6: Forces
Lesson 9 of 12

Objective: Students will be able to use a Newton's Cradle to experiment with Newton's 3rd Law.

Big Idea: Newton's 3rd Law can be demonstrated most effectively with a Newton's Cradle.

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