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.


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.

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. 🙂