Day 59: A Single-Sentence Lab

College-Prep Physics: Today I tried an idea from Andrew Morrison (blog, Twitter), which appeared in the November issue of The Physics Teacher: Single Sentence Labs. Andrew writes, “a truly authentic scientific experiment does not come with any instructions.”

So as an introduction to our unit on acceleration, students were given this single-sentence lab: Does a spring rolling down an inclined lab table speed up? Justify your claim with evidence and reasoning.

It was fantastic. Lots of discussion within and between groups about possible experimental designs and analysis.

Some students went the traditional stopwatch and meter stick route:


Others asked for motion detectors:


One group did video analysis:


On Friday, we’ll share our experiments and results.

NOTE: Last year, I did something similar, but used batteries instead of springs. Since the springs are hollow, they have a larger rotational inertia and accelerate more slowly than batteries. It takes about 5 seconds for the springs to travel the length of the 6 foot lab tables at a slight incline (about 3 volumes of Conceptual Physics texts high). I assume PVC pipe cut to pencil length would work well, too.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:
#3. Planning and carrying out investigations
#4. Analyzing and interpreting data
#5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
#7. Engaging in argument from evidence


About Frank Noschese

HS Physics Teacher constantly questioning my teaching.

3 responses to “Day 59: A Single-Sentence Lab”

  1. Jessica Harris says :

    Love the simplicity of this investigation – great tip for using a hollow object.

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