Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Projectile Motion Lab

Posted on: November 15, 2008

nerf-maverickThis is a favorite of mine.  After you’ve spend nearly two weeks trying to get students to understand the basics of projectile motion, it’s time to go hands-on.

Students get a Nerf gun, a meter stick, a level, and a long metric tape measure.  They launch several darts horizontally from 1 meter in height and mark where the darts first hit the ground.  They measure this distance and average them together.  Then using this distance and the time it takes for an object to fall 1 meter, they can calculate the muzzle velocity of their Nerf gun.  (My Nerf gun in the picture has a muzzle velocity of around 12 m/s.)

Part two, they are to use what we did in class to calculate how far the dart will go if they are launched from the ground at 10º, 15º, and 20º.  (Any higher angle and they hit the ceiling.)

Part three, they go back to the range and using a large cardboard protractor that I made, they launch the darts from the ground at those three angle and see how they did.  The lab is attached below along with another one I do at the same time.  Enjoy.



15 Responses to "Projectile Motion Lab"

I bring in a ramp, to consistently launch a ball bearing horizontally from my desk. then I give each group(2-3) a ring stand with ring attached (borrow from chem lab) all set at different heights.
Task: place your ring stand so the ball will fall through the ring.
We need to measure as a group, the height of the desk, and the horizontal distance the ball lands. I wait until someone decides we should measure those.

Thanks so much for this blog!

I just found it the other day when searching for a Nerf gun lab. I also had this idea, but wanted to see if anyone else had done it, and what other things I would need to consider to make the lab successful. I am attempting the lab on Wed. and Thurs. with my classes. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m a first year teacher, and this is a great resource for ideas and teaching tools that I don’t have to create all on my own. Keep up the awesome posting!

I’m looking forward to hearing how it works out for you. If you come up with any variations, I do want to hear about those a well.

Hello, what did “h” mean in the equation, was that just the average length, or something else?

‘h’ is the height above ground, the initial height of the nerf dart.

On Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 1:54 AM, Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers wrote:


I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is required to get set up? I’m
assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% certain. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Cheers

Blogging is free except for your time and energy. WordPress is good, so is blogger. Just set up an account, choose your theme and start writing.

On Sun, Dec 9, 2012 at 11:20 PM, Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers


Do you by any chance have the lab-write up for this? I teach conceptual physics which at my school is the non-regents physics course. This activity would be great for my students. This is my first year teaching the course and unfortunately the teacher before me left absolutely nothing so I have been making up labs from scratch. Let me know!

Sorry, I just realized you already had the link available!

Has anyone come across any issues with using a nerf gun since it involves bringing a toy gun to school? My school has a strict policy concerning this. It seems like a great lab that the students would enjoy.

Hey Mr. Scott. This experiment looks really cool. I am a fifth grader and was wondering if you could send me an example of your formulas with actual numbers included. I’m worried I will get the math wrong. Can you help? Thank you. G

How do you account for the 1 m vertically which it is launched at from vertically?

Hey what does time up mean?

When I teach projectile motion, I want the kids to break the trajectory into the upward portion and the downward portion. If it starts and ends at the same height, then time up = time down. So often we teach the h=h(o) + Vit + at^2 and the real understanding of the problem is lost. Instead, think about teaching the problem in two parts, the launch to the point where the object is rising until Vy=0, and the part where it is falling part where Vi=0.

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