Energy and Thermal Physics

A circus of toys

Classroom Activity for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

Here pupils can practice describing carefully chosen processes in terms of changes in energy stores.

The processes must be carefully selected because pupils need to be able to easily decide what change they are to study, and to be able to identify the initial and final states of this change. If you are not careful about these then the pupils may well, with considerable justification, describe the changes in terms of different energy stores from the ones that you had in mind.

What to Prepare

A set of simple, but carefully chosen toys:

  • a car running down a ramp
  • a music box
  • a very bouncy ball
  • a spring loaded toy which jumps in the air
  • a simple torch

For each station of the circus, you'll need to provide a card, saying what is to be studied, how to set the system up ready for this study and the precise change to be studied (from one situation to another). In addition:

  • a supply of energy store cards per pair (see below)
  • two templates per pair, to put the cards on (see below)
  • possibly access to the following interactive objects, to use in a summarising discussion

What Happens During this Activity

A circus of processes involving toys, set up around the laboratory, so that pupils can have hands-on experience of the various devices and a direct focus for discussion.

Pupils work their way around the circus, changing to the next station after an agreed time. At each station they use the energy store cards and the templates, together with the apparatus, in order to agree on an energy description for the change they are studying.

You may instruct the pupils to record their energy descriptions using the correct words, but certainly do not expect them to redraw the cards! You will probably want to focus on a selection of processes for further plenary discussion. You might like to use one of the interactive templates on a whiteboard together with the apparatus to review the pupils' answers.

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