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

Posts Tagged ‘Conservation of Momentum

I realized tonight, as I start to plan my lessons for the week,  that I don’t have much here on momentum. This is a pretty straight-forward section. It’s easy to teach and should not be confusing to students that do the barest amount of studying.

As a quick summary, I teach momentum and impulse, skip angular momentum, then teach conservation of momentum.  Not all the books discuss elastic and inelastic collisions, but I think that is rather critical to the subject.  I also stop short of including the energy section.

Once I start conservation of momentum, I talk about what happens when people don’t wear seatbelts.  I teach high school seniors in Philadelphia, many of them are just getting their license because they use public transportation to get around.  I drum into their head the need for seatbelts.  One way to do this is to figure that a car traveling at 25 m/s (about 55mph) hitting a tree would compress perhaps 1.5 meters while coming to a stop.  I calculate the time to stop is about .12 seconds.  Using the impulse-momentum theorem, I get a figure of about 300,000 Newtons of force.  I’m sure car manufacturers have better numbers, these are just an estimate.

For demos, I have something call “slippery alley” that was purchased through Frey.  There is a sled that wants to separate because of a rubber band, but it is held together with a string.  The alley is a metal trough filled with plastic microspheres creating a nearly frictionless surface.  Since one part of the sled is twice the mass of the other, when they seperate (in opposite directions), the lighter mass is traveling twice as fast as the heavy one.

The worksheet I’ve attached was very carefully researched.  All the masses are accurate, as are the velocities of the projectiles.  If you find any errors, please let me know.


My wife asked me why my Rollerblades were in my trunk. She knows I don’t use them where we live, there are too many hills. I’m a Physics teacher, the answer should be obvious – Conservation of Momentum. Tell me the truth, don’t you look to do something unexpected to get you students’ attention. In graduate school we called it disequilibrium.

You should have seen their faces the day I skated into class. Of course I have the racing bearings which work well for classroom demonstrations. The idea is to start at a standstill and throw a heavy object and watch the object go one way and me the other. I also carried a box of textbooks and while moving forward, threw them ahead of me. They could see that I instantly slowed down. This is what dreams are made of. There will be NO photos, use your imagination.

What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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