If you are a science teacher, I am sure you can remember some of the first times you were wowed or amazed by what you learned or experienced in a science class. The first time the subject came alive to you in a new way. For me, it happened in Mr. Militzer’s physics class during my junior year of high school. Mr. Militzer had constructed an elaborate setup to test our knowledge about energy conservation and two-dimensional motion. A ball was attached to some sort of pendulum and pulled back to a certain height. When released, the ball would swing. At the bottom of the swing, the ball would be released from the pendulum, turning it into a projectile. Our task was to predict where the ball would land on the classroom floor and place a cup to catch it at that location. I don’t remember struggling to come up with a predicted location, but I do remember being amazed that the ball actually landed at the location we predicted. It was the first time I experienced the predictive power of physics, to see proof that the concepts and equations we had discussed and practiced in class accurately describe reality.
Now that I am a physics teacher, I want to give my students the same type of experience, where they can use the concepts and equations discussed in class to solve complex or novel problems, to experience the predictive power of physics for themselves. In this video I want to walk you through an investigation for students to learn about projectile motion and several different lab challenges you could do with your students related to projectile motion.These lab challenges would be appropriate for high school and introductory college students.
For any lab challenge, you want students to have a fair chance at being successful. A fair chance at success means choosing the right challenge and using the right equipment. For any lab challenge related to projectiles, this means having an apparatus that can launch an object with a consistent velocity each time, and having a projectile that experiences minimal air friction. Arbor Scientific has a great affordable option to do just that, called the Mini Projectile Launcher. This launcher can shoot a small metal sphere at many different angles, has an integrated protractor, and can launch the metal sphere at three different speeds. This Mini Projectile Launcher is an improved version. Arbor Scientific includes a precisely machined metal cup that holds the ball on the plunger for better accuracy and consistency.