Pie, For Me? Using A Simulation to Explore Energy Transfers at A Skatepark

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Students will create energy transfer pie charts to demonstrate an understanding of the conservation of energy.

Big Idea

Mechanical energy is conserved in a closed system.


The goal of this lesson is to help students use energy pie charts and bar graphs to model the changes in mechanical energy within the system. This lesson addresses the HSA-REI.A.1 and HS-PS3-1 standards as a way to effectively model the energy within a system using both computational and mathematical models. Students investigate and communicate their understanding of the pattern of energy transfers related to an object's position and motion using the NGSS Practices of Developing and Using Models (SP2), Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (SP3), Constructing Explanations (SP6), and Communicating Information(SP8) that illustrate the mechanical energy at 4 distinct locations on a skate park track. 

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 coherent analysis of energy changes of a skater within a system. One of the goals of this lesson is for students to predict the change in one type of energy given the change in energy of a different type of energy within a closed system.

Do Now: Think, Puzzle, Explore

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 mechanical energy is conserved in a closed system. The objective of the bell-ringer is to give students a clear understanding of the focus of today's lesson.  I choose to focus on the question "How does the energy of a system change over time?" because I want students to learn that while the total energy of the system remains constant, energy is transferred from one type to another.

I follow today's bell ringer with a strategy called Think Puzzle Explore. During this activity I ask students to create a three column chart in their notebooks and to illustrate what the image I provide them makes them think, any questions about the image students may have and to identify what they think today's lesson is about.  At the end of this activity, we have a whole class Share Out to discuss key ideas that students identify during this activity. In the next section of the lesson, I lead students through a guided problem that demonstrates the connection between physics and safe roller coaster design.

Guided Problem: Analyzing the Mechanical Energy of a Roller Coaster

15 minutes

During this portion of the lesson, I spend the first five minutes displaying a Guided Problem where I provide students with the givens and an image on the interactive whiteboard at the front the room. I have students answer the question in their notebooks. We discuss the guided problem as students write their solutions. One goal of this section of the lesson is to help students make connections between the roller coasters and physics concepts we have covered thus far in the semester.

After we discuss the guided problem, I ask students to describe the best method to create a safe and thrilling roller coaster. Some student responses include, "Designing the initial hill at a height where riders will land safely at the end", and "Making the maximum speed fast enough to make a rider feel queasy, but not fast enough to make that rider throw up."  Later in this unit students create model roller coasters using card stock to meet a set of constraints; the guided question from today's lesson gives them prior physics content knowledge.

Using a Simulation to Explore Mechanical Energy of A Skate Park

25 minutes

During the first five minutes of this portion of the lesson, I distribute an activity which gives students a chance to analyze the kinetic and potential energy of a skater at different points on a skate park track. I also project this description on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. Students spend five minutes predicting what the energy pie charts will look like for a skater at different points on a track. After five minutes elapse, I ask students to spend the next fifteen minutes testing their predictions using the skate park simulation introduced in an earlier lesson. While students are testing their predictions I circulate the room giving written and verbal feedback to students who have puzzles or questions regarding the content or the task.

I ask students to use the next fifteen minutes to predict and test their models of the mechanical energy of the system using pies or bar graphs. Students complete the data table on the sheet and write the corresponding step by step solutions in their lab notebooks. After fifteen minutes pass, I ask students to discuss this portion of the lesson with their elbow partners to compare best practices for solving problems of this type. I also ask students to complete the analysis questions in their lab notebooks. I remind students to use the digital textbook from openStax as a credible resource for their research.

Student Choice Board: Assesing Student Understanding of Mechanical Energy

20 minutes

During the first minute or of this portion of the lesson, I project a Student Choice Board on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. Students work in pairs and choose 1 visual option and 1 written option to complete. Each option must:

  • identify why students consider this topic an important physics concept
  • explain connections between physics concepts from this semester and their solution
  • provide tips to other physics students on how to solve similar problems

The visual options include tech tools like Popplet, Powtoon, and Piktochart. The written options include creating a diary entry, a blog and writing a letter to another physics student. Both options ask students to illustrate key ideas that relate to mechanical energy and how understanding these physics concepts are helpful for solving a roller coaster problem. I also post a copy of the document on our class Edmodo wall for students to use and ensure that each pair of students has access to the choice board. Then I ask students to spend the next twenty minutes completing a mechanical energy motion themed student choice board.  

While students are completing the activity, I circulate the room giving written and verbal feedback to students who have puzzles or questions regarding the content or the task. After twenty minutes pass I ask students to turn in work products from this lesson. Students who are unable to complete the assignment during class may turn their work in at the end of the school day. I grade the choice board work products before the next class and record the grades in our digital standards-based grade book.

Closure: Differentiated Exit Slip

5 minutes

During the first five minutes of this portion of the lesson, I project the closing activity on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. I assess students on a scale of Not Yet to Highly Proficient. The closing activity asks students to demonstrate that energy is conserved in a closed system using energy pie charts. I also ask students to identify 3 concepts that they have learned, 2 things that they can change in the simulation and 1 puzzle they still have about what physics has to do with roller coasters and skate parks. Click here to see an example of student work. 

Student responses include, "Total mechanical energy is constant, but energy can be transferred from potential energy to kinetic energy and back again", and "When a skater is not moving at the top of a hill, he only has potential energy." To wrap up, I collect the Exit Slips to grade and return to students at the end of the week and remind students to return any borrowed materials including the Chromebooks to the Resource area at the front of the room.