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

Take Home Physics

takehomephysicsThis book is seriously awesome.  I am in love with this book.  No expensive lab equipment?  No problem!  Everything in this book can be found around the house or inexpensively bought.  NSTA members can download the individual book chapters for free via the NSTA Learning Center.  This book has revolutionized the way I teach physics and made it a whole lot more exciting.

The only quibble I have with this book is that it is not formatted very well for copying.  I usually create my own lab sheets for students and include book diagrams by taking screen shots of the digital copy.

There’s also a chemistry version, which I will no doubt use if I ever have the opportunity!

Flick It! Lab

One of the biggest things I’ve learned this year from teaching physics is that you don’t have to have a lot of fancy lab equipment.  At first I despaired that I didn’t have spark timers or force tables or lots of other things, but I’ve since learned that I make a lab out of just about anything.  And doesn’t that make sense?  Physics is all around us, so we should be able to apply it to just about anything.

Hence, the “Flick It! Lab.”  Horizontal projectile motion demonstrated with whatever happens to be laying around.  Get a meter stick, measure you x and y displacements, and you can get time and velocity.  Many students had fun making paper footballs to use.  One student even had a plush Angry Birds key chain.  Put on table, flick it off, measure the height of the table and the distance the object went.

A few things that I’ll watch for next time:

  • Object should not bounce on impact, hence objects like bouncy balls don’t work (unless students can mark the initial point of impact).
  • Measurement should be taken in meters, not centimeters as so many of my students did.  The gravitational constant is in m/s/s, so they need to check their units.

Here the lab sheet I created: Flick It Lab

Feel free to use. 🙂

Marshmallow Catapults, or Angry Marshmallows

As part of my unit on projectile motion, I will have my students build marshmallow catapults.  Students are more aware of the principles of projectile motion these days due to the popularity of the game Angry Birds.  By building their own catapult, they can bring the game to life.

A Google Image search of “marshmallow catapult” brings up lots of good ideas.  Some of my favs:

marsh1 marsh2 marsh3marsh4I plan on offering my students the choice of the following materials:

  1. Popsicle sticks
  2. Rubber bands
  3. Clothespins
  4. Plastic spoons
  5. Plastic bottle tops
  6. Tape
  7. Glue
  8. Cardboard
  9. Binder clips

Although any household or office supplies could be used.

Students will build their catapults, measure the distance and travel time, and then use kinematic equations to find the maximum height of trajectory.

Extensions of this activity could include challenging students to shoot the farthest, the most accurate, and to hit several targets.

Meiosis Cut & Paste

High schoolers may pretend they’re too cool for scissors and glue sticks, but I know better.  They love to relive their elementary days!  Plus these hands on activities have students match pictures, descriptions, and labels of meiosis that allow me to observe their construct of meiosis.  I have done this after introducing meiosis, and I include pictures and descriptions that are slightly different from their notes so they are forced to compare and really take a good look at what is happening inside the cell.

Meiosis Cut n Paste