Newton's First Law

2 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will demonstrate an understanding of Newton’s first law by gathering information from multiple sources and creating a visual.

Big Idea

An object’s state of motion remains unchanged unless influenced by an unbalanced force.


The goal of this lesson is to help students construct explanations about inertia. This lesson addresses the RST.11-12.2 standard because it asks students to use information from multiple sources to create a conceptual model for Newton's first law. It aligns with the NGSS Practices of Developing and Using Models (SP2), Constructing Explanations (SP6), and Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information (SP8) for Science because students use both text and interactive images to craft a conceptual understanding on Newton's first law. This relates to (SP6) because students have to leverage skills like note taking and using logic to recognize patterns while developing an understanding of how objects accelerate. One goal of this lesson is to help students learn that objects tend to maintain their current state of motion whether at rest or in motion. 

Students then use our digital textbook and note-taking skills to gather information and create a visual representation of Newton's first law. During the closure activity at the end of this lesson, I ask students to discuss the most important and challenging parts of today's lesson on Newton's first law. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins, and assess each student's work at the end of the school day. I want students to learn to integrate information from various points of this course into a conceptual understanding of Newton's first law. 


10 minutes

This portion of the lesson begins with this routine. 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.

Today's piece of additional piece of information is a Big Idea which states that an object's state of motion remains unchanged unless impacted by an unbalanced force. The objective of the bell-ringer is to give students a clear understanding of the focus of today's lesson. In this lesson, I want students to get ready to leverage information gathered from our digital textbook and the physics classroom website to construct an understanding of Newton's first law.


Small Group Discussion

15 minutes

After students complete the bell-ringer activity, I show students pages 20 and 21 of Larry Gonick's cartoon guide to physics on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room.


(Images Courtesy of Larry Gonick)   

Students spend about 5 minutes reading the cartoons and then discussing the cartoons with their elbow partners for during this section of the lesson. This part of the lesson focuses on the conceptual model for Newton's first law. I choose to use this type of artifact because cartoons are a familiar media for my students and I like this author's perspective on forces and Newton's laws. 

I spend a minute or two distributing Chromebooks and ask students to open this moving image which I post on our class Edmodo wall. I ask students to spend ten minutes taking quick notes in their lab notebooks about the connection between the two visuals. After students take quick notes, I ask students to pair off with their elbow partners and to take turns 1 minute each discussing the connection between the website and the illustrations. Some student comments include "A wall is an immovable object that was impacted by the moving car which was in motion.",  and "The passenger stays in motion because only the car experiences the force of the wall pushing back on it when the car crashes into a wall." At the end of this section, I tell students to gather information using our digital textbook, the physics classroom website, and EdPuzzles to create a visual that explains "Newton's first law".

Visualizing Newton's First Law

40 minutes

In this section of the lesson, I ask students to construct an explanation of Newton's first law using this handout and our digital textbook. I introduce different notetaking strategies in an earlier lesson that I now ask students to use while take notes from our openStax digital textbook and the physics classroom website on the concept of Newton's first Law. 

Students spend the next 20 minutes taking notes by:

  • Writing headings as questions
  • Describing concepts, graphs, charts and tables that are related to understanding the concept of "Newton's first law"
  • Showing the connection between basic physic concepts like position, mass, velocity and acceleration to Newton's first law.

As students are taking notes, I walk around checking in with them. The purpose of this assignment is to have students use information from multiple sources and perspectives, much like scientists construct explanations of complex topics. Students spend 20 minutes discussing their notes with their elbow partners and then creating a visual that illustrates their understanding of Newton's first law. This task helps students illustrate the depth of their current understanding of Newton's first law of motion. 

Closure: Free write on Newton's First Law

10 minutes

The closure activity this section asks students to spend 5-10 minutes working individually to create free write to answer the question "What happens when a driver runs into a stationary wall?" in their notebooks. A free write activity asks students to spend a short amount time typically ten minutes or less writing with a utensil of their choice on a single topic or answering a guiding question without editing their responses while making their thoughts about the topic visible to a reader. Student responses include: "The driver keeps moving with the same velocity as the car." and "The wall applies a force on the car which brings its motion to a stop after the car and the wall interact, but the driver keeps moving and is probably hurt whenever he lands". I like this activity because students connect a conceptual model to a physical scenario that demonstrates Newton's first law or the concept of inertia. This helps drive home the idea that physics models are multifaceted.

To wrap up this section of the lesson, I ask students to look at the Minds on Physics modules (Newton's Laws:Assignment 1) that I post on the class Edmodo wall for homework. I also ask students to share their medal success codes with me by midnight on Thursday morning to meet the HW deadline. Each module has a progress bar and a success bar. As students answer questions correctly their progress bar goes up. If students begin to answer questions incorrectly their health bar decreases. If a student's health bar reaches zero before completing the module students must make a second attempt  at the module. The content remains constant, but the questions change either in order or phrasing each time a student attempts a module. Once student progress reaches 100% on a module students receive a medal success code.

If a student demonstrates mastery with little to no evidence of stumbling he or she receives a gold medal success code. If a student reaches mastery but stumbles in one or two instances, her or she receives a silver medal success code. Students who receive a silver medal success code are given the opportunity to continue practicing so as to attain a gold medal success code. Students record these alphanumeric codes on a record sheet which correspond to either gold or silver medals on a Minds on Physics module. I give students with gold medals credit for being highly proficient and give students with silver medals credit for being proficient in our standards-based grade book