May 14, 2015

Student-Designed Force and Motion Experiments

Yesterday I invited my students to pose a question about forces, and then design an experiment to answer that question. More details about that process in my post on Force and Motion Inquiry.

Today the students implemented their experiments, and it was AWESOME!

To help them be structured, I created this document for them to use:

Ahead of time, I wrote each group's question in the question section so that they were sure to stay focused on just that one question. This turned out to be a good decision, because a few groups started adding on another "What if we..." tinkerings and I had to remind them that today we are only focusing on their original, approved question.

Their research questions were:
1. How do different inclines relate to the distance an object travels?
2. How do different inclines relate to the amount of force needed to move an object up a ramp?
3. Will an object move faster forward or backward? What if it is carrying different types of loads?
4. How does the amount of force used relate to the distance an object travels?
5. How does the amount of force used relate to the speed of an object?

The groups eagerly set up their experiments and got started. I asked each group to take 3 photos or videos to share during their presentations at the end of the session.
Setting up an experiment for different loads

The incline for question #2
As I circulated, I noticed a few key things:
* Tons of buy-in and excitement about the task
* Lots of discussion about experimental design
* Lots of reasoning about forces, distance, speed, and loads
* Some difficulty understanding the need to replicate each test several times and to record the data from these additional tests

I also loved the real-world use of measurement tools since many groups were using meter sticks for distance measures, or stopwatches for time/speed.

The final step was to present their findings to the class.
Sorry the pic is so dark! We were having a natural-light day

I displayed each group's photos/videos as they discussed their question, procedure, data, and claim. During each presentation, we also paused so that the rest of the class could discuss predictions or do data analysis. Each group was required to take a photo of their data table, so the class took a few minutes to discuss the data before the presenting-group explained their interpretation.

Overall, my main take-away is that Student-Designed Explorations are powerful learning and community-building experiences!

~ Amanda


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