Using A Simulation to Investigate Work and Energy

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Students will demonstrate an understanding of work by using and communicating information they gather from a simulation.

Big Idea

Work is done when an object is displaced in the same direction a force is applied.


The goal of this lesson is to have students use a simulation to extend a conceptual understanding of work. At this point in the semester, students have constructed an explanation for energy, have used tools like our digital textbookEDpuzzle and PhET simulations to learn more about kinetic energy and potential energy. During the introductory lesson of this unit, students learn about the connection between work and energy. With this in mind, during today's lesson I have students use a simulation to investigate work and energy within a system. This lesson addresses the HS-PS3-2 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 Work and the displacement 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 work of motion based on their observations from the simulation lab.

Within this lesson, students begin by using a simulation to investigate work and energy within a system. At this point in the semester, students have used choice boards and simulations to gain a deeper understanding of work and energy. Students then use their understanding of work and energy from to create a visual in pairs on the work done within a system. Finally, students construct an explanation of work in terms of the content from today's lesson to create a headline that encapsulates important ideas from today's lesson. Within this lesson, I ask students to focus on constructing an explanation of the criteria for work being done. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins and assess each student's work at the end of the school day.


5 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 work is done when an object is displaced in the same direction as the applied force. The objective of the bell-ringer is to give students a clear understanding of the focus of today's lesson. I choose the focus question "How do we know that work is being done?" because I want students to learn that investigating the behavior of a system is a great way to learn about the physics of work.

Investigating Work Using A Simulation

40 minutes

During the first five minutes of this section of the lesson, I distribute Chromebooks to students. Then I ask students to spend the next thirty minutes of this section, I ask students to complete a computer simulation activity involving work. Students work in pairs to investigate the effect of the angle of incline on the amount of work required to pull a cart up a hill at a constant speed. As students are working on their investigations, I walk around checking in with them. After thirty minutes pass, I ask students to spend the last five to ten minutes discussing the activity with another pair of students at their lab station. 

The purpose of this assignment is to have students analyze data from the computer simulation and compare their results to the physics concepts we cover in this unit. I want students to use multiple sources to check their answers to the analysis questions. Some of the sources include notes, our openStax digital textbook, and this interactive simulation. This task helps students to illustrate the depth of their current understanding of the concept of work. 

At the end of this section, I collect student activities to grade and return to them later in the week. A resource manager returns the Chromebooks to the charging station so that they are readily available the next time the materials are needed.

Student Choice: Work Problems

20 minutes

After students complete the investigation on the effect of angle on the work done on an object, I ask them to spend twenty minutes either creating a visual of their choice that illustrates the connection between work, force and displacement or solving a set of problems on work from our digital textbook or the Physics Classroom website. I want students to understand how important building effective presentations is to crafting well-sourced explanations of work. One goal of this section of the lesson is to use the information to connect models of behavior with a conceptual model of work. 

Each option must: 

  • Include background information
  • Illustrate the connection between work, force and displacement
  • Solve a set of word problems

I spend five minutes calling on students from around the room and answer clarifying questions that students ask. After I answer a few questions, students spend twenty minutes applying their understanding of the effect of an angle on the work done on an object by answering a set of practice questions or creating a visual on the concept of work. Students spend the last five minutes of this portion of the lesson explaining their work to another pair of students. After students share their information with another pair of students, they work in small groups to craft an explanation of work in their notebooks. 

Click here to see an example of student work. 


10 minutes

The closure activity asks students to write down ideas about work in their notebooks using a Headlines routine. The headlines routine asks students to create a short description the summarizes the key ideas of today's lesson either in their notebooks or as posts on our class Edmodo wall. Student responses include: "It's when you apply a force and change an object's position", "Energy in Motion", and "Force times Displacement". 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 upcoming lab report due dates that I post on the class Edmodo wall. I also ask students to share their analysis with me by midnight to meet the first deadline.