An Inquiry Lab for Angled Projectiles

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Students will vary height and angle of a projectile to determine their effects on projectile motion.

Big Idea

Bang! Students use Nerf dart guns to explore projectile motion.

Context & Equipment Needs

During the previous lesson students learned the fundamentals of non-horizontal launches (HS-PS2-1), so today the goal is to apply that knowledge. The lesson starts with an inquiry activity before students launch into the activity (SP3, SP5 & SP8).  As closure, students choose one word to describe their personal experiences from the lab activity. 

This lab requires students to launch projectiles and I find that simple, single-barrel Nerf guns work well. My students choose how to collect their data, but I do provide each group with meter sticks and protractors. Some groups ask for masking tape, so I provide that as well. All of these materials, along with the lab sheet (available in the activity section), are organized at the front of the room when students arrive.

Inquiry Introduction

5 minutes

I have the central question "How does height and angle affect the projectile motion of an object?" written on the board when students enter the classroom. My hope is that before I even start talking, students read and individually reflect about the various ways they can answer that question.  

Because today's lab activity is time-consuming, I give students a brief introduction to the lab by reading the central question aloud and showing the location of the lab materials.  I also take this opportunity to stress to the students that lab safety is of the upmost priority today:  we will not be shooting suction darts at anyone!!

Students get to choose their partners for this lab since it will need to be completed outside of class time and I want to make sure they are comfortable contacting the people in their group.  I suggest that students work in groups of 3, although I allow students to work in pairs or groups of 4 if they are more comfortable.  

Inquiry Lab

40 minutes

After students have selected their groups, one person from each group should come forward to get the materials and a lab sheet (which I've cut in half prior to students arriving). The lab sheet is purposely void of much information because students must create their own procedure and show the reasoning for their decisions. This will all be included in a formal lab report according to our previously established guidelines and should look something like this when completed.

As students collect their supplies from the front of the room and move into their lab stations, there is much excitement about getting to use dart guns in school! I see students testing how far their darts can go, and only after they get this out of their systems do they start to discuss and collaborate about data collection. Some students try to measure the time that the dart is in the air, while others try to find the maximum height that the dart reaches. My only advice to students, as I walk around and ensure everyone is safe, is to go back and look at how their data fits into the equations that they have. This advice is usually enough to put students on the right track.

Since the lab is open-ended, I make sure to circulate throughout the room and check-in with each of the groups.  I'm offering feedback on their calculations, reminding them of vertical and horizontal assumptions, and answering any questions.  

When there is approximately 10 minutes prior to the end of class (5 minutes left of the time I've allowed for this lab), I ask students to put everything back the way they found it and return to their seats.  I also tell them at this point that the lab will be due one week from today.  

One Word Closure

5 minutes

To bring closure to our lab today, students need to think of one word that they'd use to describe their thoughts on the lab.  Once a word is used by a student, it cannot be repeated.  After I give them the instructions, students get about 30 seconds to think of their word.  Then, we go around the room and share our words!  I usually model the activity by being the first person to share a word, and then turn to the student closest to me to share next.  We go up and down the rows until everyone has had the chance to contribute.  Some examples of words from this lab include:  stressful, fun, dangerous, darting, and crazy.

As students are sharing their words, I'm making mental notes on the overall tone of their comments.  Are students excited and joking?  Or, are the students monotone and overwhelmed?  Listening to students as they share gives me insight into how the lab went and if I need to make any adjustments.  Also, if a word strikes me as being completely out of context, I do ask the student to clarify!