Playing with Physics

Your lesson will take place in the Field of Play exhibit. Discover the power of play in human learning and development at a multimedia theater presentation. Then unleash your playful energies: walk through a giant kaleidoscope and create and view your own kaleidoscope patterns, use pulleys to power balls through a gigantic overhead ball machine, “drive” a drag racer, try to maintain your equilibrium in the slanted room, enjoy the exaggerated perspective room, climb a rock wall, and so much more. Students will begin to organize their understanding of physics and put their knowledge of the concept of force into action through play.

Lesson extensions for before or after your visit

The following activities are designed for your class to enjoy before or after your museum visit. Familiarizing students with the lesson concepts can enrich your museum experience.

Concepts to know

Students should be familiar with some or all of the following concepts: force, gravity, inertia, matter, motion, potential energy, kinetic energy, friction, momentum, and simple machines.

  1. Give pairs of students one of the above words to define. Students work together to come up with a definition. They can check the accuracy of their definition by using a dictionary or physical science glossary. Each pair then demonstrates, for the class, the concept they defined. For example: have students create a rap song or chant that explains what they know about their concept.
  2. Have students bring a variety of toys to class. Each toy should be selected based on the principles of physics that students are familiar with. The principles involved in the motion of the toy, or other important characteristics, should be considered. Working in groups, the students examine the toys and prepare an oral report to give to the class, demonstrating how the toy works and the important principles of physics involved. Most of these toys will have things in common. They all involve the use of energy. Some also involve the conversion of energy from one form to another.
  3. Get your students thinking and discussing physics. Ask students to consider the following question: Do you think that the force of gravity pulls heavy objects faster than light objects? Have students discuss their thoughts with a friend and then take a class vote. Try this experiment to find out:
    1. Place newspapers on the floor around a chair.
    2. Stand on the chair while your partner lies on the floor peering at the newspapers.
    3. Hold two identical objects, one in each hand. Extend your arms straight out away from your body (and over the newspapers) so that each object is the same height from the floor. Make sure your partner won’t get hit by the objects when you drop them. Then let go of both objects at the same time. Did they hit the newspaper at roughly the same time?
    4. Now stand in the same position but this time hold one of the objects in one hand and a smaller object in the other hand. Let go of both of these objects at the same time.

What happened? Most people would have guessed that the larger object would hit the floor first but we now know that gravity pulls all objects downward at the same speed, regardless of their weight. Of course air resistance influences this somewhat, so for more accurate results you would need to do this experiment in a vacuum (outer space).

Design a classroom challenge

Have students design a classroom challenge of their own, similar to what they did at the museum. Have them work in small groups to define a challenge and decide on the materials, distance, time frame, and physics concepts that other students have to use.

Suggested reading

Teaching Physics with Toys: Activities for Grades K–9 by Beverly Taylor

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