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By Stephanie Sanders
Discovering Uniformly Accelerated motion is intended as a three week uniform acceleration unit taught weeks 4-6 in the context of a larger 9 week study on kinematics and Newton’s Laws in a regular level physics I course. Students are expected to have completed a unit on constant velocity motion and vectors prior to this unit. In addition, students are expected to have 8th grade level familiarity with forces (i.e. a force is a push or a pull). The unit is structured to allow students to uncover known relationships in a discovery fashion in an effort to keep this unit physics rather than algebra focused.
Because students experience motion in their everyday lives, through this experience, they often form misconceptions about motion that persist even after Physics I. Misconceptions such as “heavy objects fall faster than light objects,” “motion only occurs with an applied force,” and “gravity slows you down” are particularly persistent among my students. Thus, I elected to begin this unit by having students discuss and experience the difference between casual, everyday observation and careful experimentation when doing scientific discovery.
Students begin the unit from the historical context of Galileo’s experiments with the acceleration of gravity. First discussing why scientists argue that Galileo never dropped items off of the tower of Pisa, and then reproducing his inclined plane experiments and using graphical analysis to discover that:
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