Monday, March 12, 2018

Stop Motion Races to Visually Demonstrate High School Physics Concepts

Sometimes technology offers an easy and better way to visualize concepts than traditional teaching methods. For example, recently in high school physics, ninth grade students were learning about velocity and acceleration. Understanding the differences between these terms is something that I can remember struggling with back when I was in high school, and back then I only remember copying down definitions for each term from a textbook. Recently students in Joe Cossette’s ninth grade Intro to Physical Science class at Minnetonka High School were learning this content and used their iPads to help visualize the meaning of these concepts.

To begin, students were given the velocity of one object and the acceleration of another object. They then had to use the Excel app on their iPad to calculate where and how far each of these objects would travel in a tenth of a second, creating a data table of this information. Students then used Excel to make a scatter plot showing the displacement of each object. Once they had their data, students set up their iPads on top of some textbooks as as tripod over a sheet of grid paper. The two objects were placed on the paper and then students set the objects on top of this.

They used the Stop Motion app to photograph the stationary objects, changing the frames per second on the app for 10 fps.  After the initial photograph, students moved each object the specified distance traveled in a 10th of a second using the values from their Excel data sets, took a second picture, and repeated this process 30 times. In other words, 10 pictures were taken per second to produce a 3 second video. The app then puts these all into a short video.

This video, along with the data set, was posted in a class discussion board on Schoology so classmates could view it and compare to their own. Since everyone was given different initial variables, students were able to compare and visually see the differences between acceleration and velocity in each group’s video. When I asked Joe about the task, he explained:

This task required students to perform a large variety of skills. It was fun to have a projected that involved rearranging kinematic equations, creating custom excel formulas for a table of data, inserting a motion graph, and producing a stop motion video. In many ways, this activity was a “reverse lab” experience for the students. Typically, the goal of physics is to collect data about a moving object and quantify its motion with a constant velocity or acceleration. This task provided the velocity and acceleration and required students to create the motion. Some students that have made stop motion videos on their own were excited to use the techniques from physics to help make their final products look more realistic. With the rise in computer animation, the idea of using physics to create movies that emulate the motion of the natural world is not only engaging, it is a strategy used by professionals in the work force.

I’ve seen other uses of stop motion in classrooms around Minnetonka, including students using construction paper cut outs to visualize/animate a movie about with rotation of the planets in the solar system as well as explain the reasons for the seasons. I sure wish these technology tools had been available when I was in science class, both as a teacher and as a student!
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