Using Simulations to Investigate Forces

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Using a simulation, students will demonstrate an understanding of how forces change motion.

Big Idea

Simulations are a great way to study and learn about forces and motion.


The goal of this lesson is to help students use a simulation to construct a conceptual understanding of forces and motion. This lesson addresses the HS-PS2-1 standard and Cross-Cutting Concept of XC-SSM-HS-4 because it asks students to use a simulation-based guided inquiry lab to investigate the relationship between forces and the motion of objects.  It aligns with the NGSS Practices of Developing and Using Models (SP2), Using Mathematical Reasoning (SP5) and Constructing Explanations (SP6) for Science because students construct explanations of Newton's laws of motion based on their observations from the simulation lab. 

Within this lesson, students begin taking notes using an EdPuzzle which is a set of video notes with embedded questions and comments on forces. Students then use their understanding of forces from the beginning of the lesson to complete a guided inquiry simulation lab in pairs on forces and motion. Finally, students construct an explanation of forces in terms of the content from today's lesson to complete a free write on forces. Within this lesson, I ask students to focus on constructing an explanation of how forces cause changes in an object's motion. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins, and assess each student's work at the end of the school day. 


10 minutes

This portion of the lesson begins with a routine where students write the objective and additional piece of information in their notebooks as soon as they enter the classroom. I project a slide with the date, the objective and an additional prompt  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.

Today's additional piece of information is a Big Idea which states that simulations are a great way to study and learn about forces and motion. The objective of the bell-ringer is to give students a clear understanding of the focus of today's lesson.  I choose simulations to study forces because I want students to learn that technology-based models are useful for studying and practicing physics.

EDpuzzle: Types of Forces

15 minutes

Within this lesson, students construct explanations of different types of forces. I include a set of notes that I project at the interactive whiteboard in the front of the room. This part of the lesson focuses on the conceptual model for a few force types. For the first ten minutes, I play the notes at the front of the room for the entire class and pause at the pause points I have embedded as green question marks in the video.

During the first ten minutes, students take notes in their notebooks. I ask students if they have any questions or concerns about the methods discussed in the video. We have a whole class discussion for 2-4 minutes. Some student questions include, "Do we have to name forces the way shown in the video?" and "How do we really know that objects like bowling balls cause tables to flex like in the video if we can't see this happening?" During the last minute of this section of the lesson, I email this video and notes to the entire class so that students can watch, pause and replay the video outside of class. During the next section, students are given a guided inquiry lab related to these notes to complete in pairs.

Forces and Motion Basics Simulation

40 minutes

Within this section of the lesson, students work in pairs on a guided activity using a simulation to investigate the forces at work in a system when pushing against or pulling an object in environments with and without friction. During the first minute or two of this section, I distribute this handout to students and ask them to spend a five minutes or so reading the activity. I project instructions for this activity on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room and take questions from students before distributing the Chromebooks students need to complete this activity. I distribute the Chromebooks and ask students to go to our Edmodo page where I post the link to the simulation below:

Students spend about thirty minutes completing guided inquiry lab in pairs using the force and motion basics simulation. Click herehere, and here to see some student responses to the inquiry lab. Some student comments include: "I can make it hard for Sam to move objects by stacking them on top of each other", and "Friction changes how easy it is to increase the speed of an object." After thirty minutes pass, I collect the handouts to grade and return them later in the week.

Closure: Free Write on Forces

10 minutes

The closure activity this section asks students to write down ideas about forces in their notebooks using a Free Write Routine. A free write routine is a strategy that asks students to write non-stop for a short period of time on a topic using a utensil of their choice without regard to grammar or framework. Students write their ideas about forces in their notebooks, but free writes often use different media like journals, chart paper or whiteboards. Students are not to cross out information and can doodle, sketch or write anything that makes their understanding of a topic visible during assessment. Student responses include: "Forces include gravity, normal, and tension forces", "Forces are pushes or pulls on an object", and "In physics we write the force, its type, which object is feeling the force and which object is dealing the force".

This type of closure activity asks students to identify points of weakness in their understanding and tools that may help them be successful in producing a presentation that will positively help them during their oral defenses. To wrap up this section of the lesson, I ask students to look at the EDpuzzles that I post on the class Edmodo wall.