Thursday, September 15, 2011

AP Physics:
Newton's Laws in Three Pictures

Learning Objectives
Students will be able to recognize Newton's Laws of Motion in ordinary situations.

Assessment Type
This activity can be used as a formative assessment to check student's conceptual understanding of Newton's Laws of Motion.

Assignment Details
Ask students to go around the school, looking for examples of Newton's Laws of Motion. When they find a situation that illustrates one of Newton's Laws, students should take a photograph using a digital camera (cell phones would work fine).

After returning to the classroom, students should write a brief description of how each image illustrates one of Newton's Laws. For example, a student description for the images above may look like:

1st Law:
A stapler is sitting on a desk illustrating that objects at rest will stay at rest.

2nd Law: When pushing someone on a swing, a greater force must be applied to someone with a greater mass in order to achieve the same acceleration.

3rd Law: When the hamster runs in his wheel, there are two forces between his feet and the wheel -- one pushing his feet forward and the other pushing the wheel backward.

Instructor's Notes
Students can use one of several free online tools to create an animated .gif of their images (as above). The student's work can then be added to a class website, showing all the different ways Newton's Laws can be found in everyday life.

This same activity can be used to check student understanding for a wide variety of conceptual topics in AP Physics. For example, conservation of momentum, oscillations, refraction, and resonance would all make for an interesting series of photos.

As a formative assessment, this activity could be graded on a completion basis. Rewards, such as placing the best examples on the class website, could be used to motivate students toward excellent work.

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