Reflection: Complex Tasks Car and Ramp - Calculating Velocity - Section 3: Student Activity (Lab)


Of all the activities in this unit, this lesson seems to be the most intuitive and easiest to master. My students have a keen sense, since they learned that velocity is distance divided by time, that the distance in this activity is the distance they create with the photogates and the time is how long the car traveled between the photogates.

Interestingly, the difficulty my students have is with labeling their data correctly and dividing their numbers in the correct order. We spend a great deal of time discussing realistic numbers and I ask them to consider before calculating. For example, "Does it make sense if you tell me it took nine hours for the car to travel 50 cm down an inclined ramp?"  I have to remind students that when they plug in their numbers, to type in the distance value into their calculators first.

One of the problems they encounter is not their fault. We are using metric numbers to measure velocity and the kids have no sense what centimeter per seconds are like - these are just numbers without any frame of reference. When I'm teaching velocity, I often start with units they have experience with (miles per hour - mph) and transition into the metric system, hoping they will develop a conceptual understanding of the topic that will carry over to the unfamiliar, but scientific metric system.

I often tell my students that if I ran the world we would have adopted the metric system long ago. In class we discuss that American manufactures don't want to switch from .0376 inches to .04732 cm. I imagine that kids who have an intuitive understanding of the metric system probably have an advantage in an activity such as this.

  Most intuitive of the activities
  Complex Tasks: Most intuitive of the activities
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Car and Ramp - Calculating Velocity

Unit 8: Motion
Lesson 3 of 6

Objective: Students will be able to gather data about the behavior of a car on a ramp as the car accelerates down the ramp.

Big Idea: Gathering data such as time and distance, students are able to calculate the velocity of an object. This activity allows the students to measure distance and time in order to calculate velocity.

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car and ramp velocity
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