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Fury Road

What happens when you put fast cars on HD video?

Well it might not be quite the same, but this is pretty cool, too.


I recently listened to a podcast in which Vicki Davis interviewed physics teacher Ben Owens. He exclaimed how the beginning units of physics instruction can get very rote and bogged down in mathematics becoming more about the numbers than about the process and what it means. Check out more on that great episode here.

In my new term of AP Physics 1, there is a strong temptation to burn through the content in preparation for our AP test in May.  The content I would usually have 18 weeks to cover I only have 12 weeks to cover due to the scheduling of the AP testing. I may end up doing some more traditional forms of instruction as we get closer to the test, but I want the first experiences with physics content to be engaging ones.  I want students to be able to “get it” and be engaged.  Like any good story or song, you need a hook.  

Luckily, I didn't have to look far for my hook.  After our previous collaboration, my friends at TEAM Togetherness, Kate Sommerville and Angela Patterson, looked forward to what they had coming up and found a perfect match.

The 4th graders at Swanson were embarking on a STEM unit in which they took on the role of engineers and followed the design process and took on the role of engineers.  I won’t step on their thunder if they decide to post on it, but it culminated in a rubber band powered go cart. 

A rubber band car is a wonderful vehicle to demonstrate many basic kinematic quantities such as displacement, velocity, and acceleration.  In fact, it is something I've had students create in the past.  When Kate let me know when the timing of the final product would be, I saw a great opportunity for my students to do some data collection on these student generated go carts.  

The 4th graders took videos of their cars in motion and shared them in on Drive with my students. My students use an iPad app created by Vernier called Video Physics to track the motion of a moving object from a video file.  The track the motion of the object over the course of its motion by making points on the screen.

This data from Video Physics can be exported to the app Graphical for more in-depth data analysis.  They are able to graph position (x or y) vs time. In addition, it graphs velocity (x and y) vs time. The program then allows them to determine the slope of the graphs using trend lines to determine velocity from a position vs time graph or acceleration from a velocity vs. time graph.  My students used these tools to analyze the motion of the Swanson student Go Carts.  They presented this data to the groups in a style which was comprehensible to a 4th grader.  This would be part of the culminating activity for the unit.  Student had already practiced with the software in the classroom to analyze objects with constant velocities, constant accelerations, and changing accelerations.  This would be a chance for them to apply their skills to a very unique task for an authentic and interested audience.

In the end my students created a report that included a position vs time graph, a velocity vs time graph as well as some highlights the data presented.  

But the goal was more than to create a report. The true product was the conversations between the different engineers from Swanson and BCHS.  

Now, if we were to visit, I felt we needed to do a little more to make it really worth our time together.  So, I stole our previous idea of sound stations and created some motion stations.   Since we are currently studying Newton’s Laws of Motion, I wanted to pull in some ideas from our motion unit and bring in content from our current unit on forces. 

Station 1: The basics of speed using tubes with air bubbles that rise at different but constant speeds.

Station 2: The basics of acceleration using wind up cars that have different accelerations and can have their masses altered by adding  contents to explore the relationship between mass and acceleration.

Station 3: Free-fall acceleration on different planets due to gravity using a simulation from phet that lets students build skate tracks on different planets.

Station 4: The study of Newton’s First Law using disks that hover on a cushion of air.

Station 5: Using motion sensors to show students how their movements in space can be translated into a graph.

Another collaboration with my friends at Swanson is in the books.  Well, now it's time to focus on getting through the rest of our AP content in an efficient and engaging way that understanding.  Looking forward to visiting 4th graders at Brookfield Elementary after AP exams are done.  Actually, Kate and Angela mentioned something about the physics of human body systems.  Work, power, energy, so many ideas....

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