Fermilab Education Home sciencelines Home Page Spring-Summer 1999

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

Students will:

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, and fuzzy.

Lab notebooks or journals and writing utensils.

Stopwatches (optional)


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 does.

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 examples include:

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