Introduction to Linear Motion

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Students will utilize motion detectors to construct ideas about the motion of a buggy cars in terms of position and time.

Big Idea

Graphing the location of an object over time is essential for understanding its motion.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

At the beginning of each lesson, I have a quick bell ringer activity to get students focused on the tasks for today's lesson. There is a slide with the date, the objective and an additional prompt projected on the interactive whiteboard with a red label that says "COPY THIS" in the top left hand corner. Sometimes the additional prompt is a BIG IDEA for the lesson, or the Quote of the Day or a Quick Fact from current events that is related to the lesson. The red label helps my students easily interact with the information as soon as they enter the room and avoids losing transition time as students enter the classroom. 

I chose this type of warm-up because it is a routine that they are familiar with which helps to lend structure to an otherwise fluid classroom environment. Later on within this lesson I ask students make several choices which lead them down unique paths where they create ways to meet the objectives of the lesson. I want students to learn that structured choice is an important way to raise their level of understanding. I ask my students that, instead of relying on a set of instructions, they focus on the objectives and big ideas to construct their understanding based on experimental evidence. This relates to (SP5) because students have to leverage skills that they have learned from mathematics to extend their physical understanding of the system at hand: a buggy car with constant linear motion.


Using Technology to Visualize Physics Concepts

15 minutes

I think of Physics as a model-dependent science which gives society insight into the inner workings of our universe. One of the driving forces behind my instructional moves towards a more democratic science classroom is the desire to help students have a firm knowledge base to construct accurate and precise explanations driven by data analysis. With this in mind, I move away from recipe-style labs and towards inquiry-based investigations of phenomena.  I believe that designing experiments to investigate the behavior of a system is an important component of scientific learning.

During this section, I project a task called Walk it Out for students to copy in their notebooks. This activity asks them to conduct an experiment of their choice. In this section of the lesson, I present students with an activity in which they get to choose their analysis method and have control over the entire process of inquiry within a few set of criteria. First the students choose who they will work with, most typically choosing their station partners. Then a resource manager gathers a graphing calculator, a motion detector, a whiteboard, a set of dry erase markers, and a cable to connect the motion detector and the graphing calculator.

Students are familiar with the built-in data analysis application which is used extensively in the math curriculum at our school. I also email the user guide to every student in the class. Students use the whiteboards to create a plan for their investigations, their discussions, and their recording of their random walks. I ask each student team to complete a test run of their investigations to ensure that the motion detectors are functioning correctly. I help if there are any challenges with the equipment and help the resource managers get the equipment working. Students record the data table and graphs generated by the software in their lab notebooks. At the end of five minutes I circulate with my checklist and take notes on this task. I also answer any clarifying questions that students may have. This part of the lesson focuses on appropriately using a graphing calculator outfitted with a motion detector to collect and analyze data based on student random walks.

At the end of this section I ask for volunteers from each station to provide a summary of where they are because I want students to give me a feedback and to provide candid reflections on the ease of the task and the connections between the information they collected and concepts they already know. This helps me see where they are in terms of their mathematics skills and their ability to collect and analyze data during physics class. During the next section students are given a chance to apply these skills to a set of toy cars, each with a distinct constant velocity. 

Investigating the Motion of a Toy Car

45 minutes


I lead a whole class discussion about the graphs generated using the motion detectors. I revisit what motion maps are and task students with creating motion maps which correspond to the graphs they generated using their graphing calculators. After 5 minutes have elapsed I circulate and ask representatives from each group to summarize how to create motion maps and to describe the motion maps for their random walks. I make sure to ask clarifying questions as I circulate in order to push students into supplying evidence to support their claims about a physical system.

After the discussion is over I circulate and distribute a handout on the requirements of the Constant Velocity Lab. I remind students of the safety rules of our lab and then ask for resource managers to gather the materials provided at the front of the room where the equipment is kept. The front resource station holds equipment in labeled drawers or containers and includes scissors, rulers, meter sticks, washers, colored pencils, markers, dry erase markers, string, whiteboards, multiple sized unlined paper and highlighters. Once we have discussed the safety for the lab and all of the materials have been distributed to each group, students begin working in groups at a location of their choice to investigate the motion of a buggy car. I circulate the classroom with my classwork assessment clipboard and make notes of groupings and answer clarifying questions for students.  

For students who choose a four member team, I ask them to follow the lab roles we have established for the class and and to complete the Constant Velocity Lab I have distributed. For those students who chose video analysis as their entry point, I ask students to record a video of the a buggy car traveling a distance of their choice while using washers to identify the location of the buggy car every second for a two minute period. After students who chose video analysis have taken the video, I ask them to analyze the motion of the buggy car with tracker software according to the user guide. For students who choose graphical analysis as their entry point, I ask them to review the handouts from the graphing practice lesson and to graph, analyze and create a mathematical model for a set of sample data from a similar buggy car that a peer donated for others to use within this lesson. 

After introducing the activity I distribute Chromebooks for students to use in their chosen groups to conduct research on the motion of these toy cars based. I included two sets of student work here and here that depict a student team's understanding of the connection between motion maps and the position time graph of the buggy cars in the Constant Velocity lab. I ask students to pay particular attention to the effect of changing their starting position with respect to the motion detector on their graphical models of the toy car's motion.

At the end of this section, I pause and ask students to return the materials they used during this section to the front resource station. A resource manager returns each material to a bin or labeled drawer so that they are readily available the next time the materials are needed. 


10 minutes

Throughout this lesson give students multiple opportunities to listen to one another and to control the process of their learning.  With this in mind, I include the same structures of a Do Now and an Exit Slip for this lesson as I do in others so that students get a sense that we share authority over learning within our community. 

The Exit Slip is a set of writing prompts for a routine called a 3-2-1 with which students are familiar. This type of closure activity asks students to identify and describe their personal level of understanding of key ideas within the lesson and also works to make student thinking visible regarding the underlying reasons behind their understanding. To wrap up the lesson, I remind students that I will return the exit slips at the beginning of the next lesson and we will go over the feedback from their exit slips during the beginning of our next class.