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Phriendly Physics: An Invitation to Learn
The most basic aspects of physics contain a richness and depth
that can be appreciated and explored without mathematics or with
very minimal math. This activity, modified from one used in Phriendly
Physics, encourages exploration and careful observation of an
event that appears very simple but is actually quite complex.
Grade Levels: 3-5
- use the techniques of inquiry to
investigate a physical phenomenon.
- explore a research topic of their
- make decisions as part of a group.
- observe events closely.
- learn to record their observations
and thoughts in an organized
MATERIALS (for each pair or group of students)
- 2 (or more) one-meter ramps. It helps to have a slight depression
or "track" down the center of the ramp. A three-dollar
molding strip will serve this purpose.
- Books or blocks of wood on which to set one end of the ramps.
- A wide variety of balls. Select different sizes and materials:
large and small, heavy and light, hollow and solid, smooth, rough,
Lab notebooks or journals and writing utensils.
Have each group of students find a place on a table or the floor
to set up their ramps. Using the materials they have on hand,
they can investigate different areas of study such as mass, momentum
and acceleration. It is very important that they write down everything
they do. If you feel it is appropriate, you may want to assign
specific tasks to members of the group, one of which would be
the group recorder, who would write down everything the group
Then you circulate among the groups with the following objectives
in mind: encouraging the students, assisting them as needed, and
helping them record their results from their experiements. If
students are having trouble focusing their investigation, you
could prompt them by suggesting questions to investigate. Possible
- Is it easier to observe the behavior of the balls if the
pitch of the ramps is steep, or shallow? Why? Can you think of
a situation that would make shallow preferable to steep? What
about the other way around?
- Does a stopwatch help you observe? Is there information you
can obtain with a stopwatch that you can't obtain any other way?
What is it? Is there information that you can get without using
the stopwatch? What is it?
- What information would you be able to get if you made pencil
marks on the ramp? Where would you place the marks? Why? Would
you get different information if you placed the marks differently?
- Examine (look at, touch, squeeze, smell, bounce, etc.) a
tennis ball and a steel ball. List all of the similarities and
differences you notice between the two balls. Roll the two balls
down the ramp at the same time. Look back at your list of similarities
and differences. Which of those do you think were responsible
for determining how the balls rolled down the ramps? Decide how
you would test to see if you're right. Carry out your tests.
We strongly recommend that you make up your own questions to
fit the level of the students and the direction in which they
are steering themselves.
As a concluding activity, the groups could present their information
to the rest of the class or propose another way of sharing what
they have learned.
Phriendly Physics Workshop schedule