Conservation of Momentum
The conservation of momentum is a fundamental law of physics. Typical labs require that students take data for several trials and several cases. This can mean that students are required to do dozens of calculations. In addition, when setting up the equations for each case, students sometimes fail to see that it is the same fundamental relationship at work in all cases. This activity forces the point that one equation can be used for all the various experimental cases. This activity can meet several MSDE Core Learning Goals.
Before this activity, students have worked extensively with data analysis using either graphing calculators or graphing software. They have learned that physical laws and physics equations are based on experimental evidence. They have used CBLs and calculators to gather data. However, this is the first exposure, in this class, to spreadsheets, ULIs and air tracks and to MATLAB.
It seemed from close observation that most of them were familiar with spreadsheets. They required little direct instruction other than a few basics about how this particular package worked. Their only MATLAB instruction came directly from the handout, though some students had used MATLAB in another class.
Time and Evaluation of Activity
Some students were able to complete the spreadsheet in the space of 40 min and to do the MATLAB activity in about 30 min. Other students took much longer figuring out the relationships between the various quantities needed just to set up the spreadsheet. Once this was determined though, they breezed through the MATLAB portion.
The combination of working with the spreadsheet and MATLAB resulted in many valuable student-teacher interactions about the relationship between the variables. It appeared that there was a much greater understanding of the underlying equations than is usually achieved with the calculator and just having the students plug in the numbers. In addition, there was a greater willingness to search out sources of mathematical error, such as putting the wrong number in the wrong cell, because the spreadsheet was doing all the work.
Most interesting to watch were the groups who found that their MATLAB
analysis produced different results than the spreadsheet. In each case,
it turned out that the spreadsheet was in error and the students could go
back and correct it.
MSDE CORE Learning Goals
MSDE CORE Learning Goals