The Law of Conservation of Energy

Students enjoy learning about potential and kinetic energy using the on-line PhET Energy Skatepark Basics simulation.I thought how much more exciting it would be if we could bring the skatepark to life in the classroom. My challenge was how do I have the students measure the changes between potential and kinetic energy in real time without fancy, complicated equipment. The solution to my challenge was not surprisingly a cell phone and Google’s Lab Journal app. This free app allows studets to use the sensors already built into the cell phone to measure and record acceleration. We strapped a cell phone to the skateboard, let it fly down our classroom sized halfpipe. The results were fantastic! The logistics of using a classroom sized half-pipe with 26 students was the next challenge. I set up 2 more stations. One of the stations was a matchbox car race down an old pinewood derby ramp. Students calculated the speed of their matchbox car at two drastically different elevations to demonstrate gravitational potential energy.Another station used two old ramps linked together in a table top halfpipe. Students rolled 4 different objects down the ramp and comparred the release height to the height the object achieved in the other side. This station focused on friction. Meanwhile other students continued to work on the PhET simulation.It was certainly a very busy and not so quiet science room. At one point I looked around the room after things were moving along and all the students were busy doing something.