Monday, October 8, 2012

Balanced and Unbalanced Forces

We're starting forces tomorrow in Honors Physics, after having done 1D CVPM and CAPM motion (both algebraically and graphically).  In general, I'm pleased with how quickly and deeply they've picked up these concepts and how well they're already starting to tie them together.

I'm doing a new version of the lab that I call "Balanced/Unbalanced." Last year, I did a hoverpuck thing similar to Kelly's, but I wanted to try something a little different this year. I'm trying to surprise them a bit out of the gate and get them to reference data to (probably) disprove their own predictions - we'll see if they see what's there or what they want to see:

I'm setting up Atwood machines from my ceiling mounting rack, with about 130 g of mass on one side and a force probe on the other side:

The students will observe the motion of the force probe and its reading in several situations, including:
  • at rest (130 g of mass balances the probe nicely)
  • moving upward (still 130 g)
  • moving downward (still 130 g)
  • moving downward (70 g on the other side)
  • moving upward (190 g on the other side)
  • moving upward (70 g on the other side)
In each case, they'll note the reading on the force probe (some surprises there, for sure), draw a well-scaled force diagram, and determine what type of motion model describes the motion. The desired UFPM/CAPM (or at least not CPVM) and BFPM/CVPM connection should come quickly, but I'm hoping that the second, third, and sixth cases are very stark messages about the difference between net force direction and motion direction. 

Part of my thinking here is that students can doubt their reasoning a lot. Even if they go through what we'd understand as a very convincing linear argument, that's not always enough to convince them in their guts. Not being able to see force magnitudes (exactly) using the hoverpuck seemed to play into that a bit for my kids last year - there was this mysterious realm of stuff going on that we weren't measuring and, even though we had a good story about what was going on, who knows if there wasn't other stuff happening that they didn't know about - what if I was lying? What if their information was bad? What if their reasoning was wrong? All of that was a possibility, if they haven't really bought into, you know, how science works (and the fact that it works). This computer, though, it wouldn't lie to them (well, that seems to be how they think).

We'll see.

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