Low Cost Physics Labs

Low Cost Physics Labs is a collection of 56 hands-on activities to do with students using every day item.  This website is a great spring board for creating meaningful yet simple labs.  Each lab has a worksheet associated with it as well as 3 links to informational sources.


Jelly Belly Classification

Any time you can combine candy and science, you know it’ll be a hit with students.

One of the great things about being an NSTA Fellow is having access to LOTS of good ideas.  I received this activity through that.

In this activity, students classify Jelly Belly jelly beans using a dichotomous key.  You can get a 4 pound container or 80 small bags of Jelly Bellies on Amazon for about $20.

Students obtain Jelly Bellies and attempt to identify them by color using this: JellyBelly Dichotomous Key

They record their findings here: JellyBelly Lab

They then test their findings by cutting each Jelly Belly in half and eating one half.  If the flavor matches the one they determined via the key, they eat the other half.  If it does not, they go back and determine if they made an mistakes or it they have discovered a new species!

A great activity to practice logical thinking and using dichotomous keys!

Banana DNA Extraction

I love labs that use household items.  This article on extracting DNA from a banana from Scientific American is a perfect example.  All items are easily obtainable and the directions were much simpler than some others I saw.  Although we couldn’t let the alcohol and liquified banana sit as long as I would have liked due to shortened periods, we had pretty good results.

I also referenced a similar lab from PBS Nova.  It had some good questions to be asking students:

Extracting DNA from Bananas

Collecting Physics Data with Your Phone

I don’t have a smart phone, but you bet all my students do!  (One day soon, I’ll upgrade…)  Since my schools is piloting BYOD (bring your own device) in the classroom, I may be able to use some of these apps in the future.

Physics Gizmo

physicsgizmoTurns your Android device into a motion detector using blue tooth!  Looks much cleaner and easier than Logger Pro.

Another one to look at: Physics Sketchpad (also Android)

These types of apps are an awesome development!  They will allow students to access real world data without the need for super-expensive sensors.

Angry Birds & Projectile Motion

Thanks to the super popular Angry Birds game, students have a pretty good concept of non-horizontal projectile motion.

This article from PBS is very helpful when thinking about how to implement the game into your instruction: Teaching Physics with Angry Birds

Another great article from Wired.com: The Physics of Angry Birds

Google Chrome provides an online free version of Angry Birds (can be used with any browser, however).  This makes a great Friday or day-before-break activity.

The Universe and More Super Ultimate Graphing Challenge

Position versus time, velocity versus time, acceleration versus time… these graphs confuse physics students!  Fortunately there’s the Super Ultimate Graphing Challenge from The Universe and More.

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 8.25.32 PMAs you can see, there are sliders to control initial position and initial velocity.  The goal is to set them so that the graph is created in the blue area.

It gets a little tougher when you have to use keyboard control!

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 8.35.10 PMAnd then changes in velocity!!

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 8.36.28 PMFound this too late to use this school year, but can’t wait to use it next year.  I think students will really enjoy it and it will help them relate the 1D motion to the 2D graph.

PhET Physics Simulations

From the University of Colorado at Boulder comes PhET Physics Simulations.

Here’s a screen shot from the Gravity Force Lab, which demonstrates the universal law of gravitation:

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 8.16.29 PMBy increases or decreasing the mass of the two objects or by changing the distance between them, the force on each object is updated.  My students struggled with recording the correct force.  Some would write 396 N and ignore the decimal places, so I’m careful to address that.

Each simulation has lesson plans and work sheets associated with it created by other teachers.  These are a mixed bag.  While some of the files provide a quick lesson or a good starting point, others are too advanced or upper level to be useful with my students.