Forces and Motion

Falling all over the world

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

Different continent, different down?

Children often have a very local understanding of the word down. In this simple and short activity we invite them to consider what down might mean for children in different places on this planet.

What to Prepare

  • a large globe, with the continents clearly marked
  • a selection of small plastic toy people
  • Some cardboard arrows labelled down, scaled for the people
  • some cardboard force arrows labelled gravity
  • a small stone
  • a means of fixing the figures and arrows to the globe

What Happens During this Activity

Introduce the globe, and locate an individual toy person (perhaps named for somebody in the class) at your current location. Then build up to an experiment to determine the use of the word down.

Teacher: We're going to do very careful scientific experiment to figure out which way it down.

Teacher: We're going to concentrate on how we think about down. It's just the way things fall when we let them go. Let's try for this stone.

Teacher: So that's our experiment, now let's make a record of that on this globe.

Now reach for a labelled cardboard down arrow, and get someone from the class to add this arrow to the named plastic person.

Now imagine doing exactly the same experiment for a number toy figure on a different continent. First place the figure, and then do the thought experiment. You might make a better the fuss of the idea of a thought experiment, as being something that is done quite often in the sciences when you cannot actually go to a place or set up a situation to explore.

Alternatively, it is possible that you have a classroom link to a school in another country in which case a short video clip of their version of down might enliven the activity.

Teacher Tip: We advise against replacing the physical globe with any virtual representation of it on screen – the real three-dimensionality is important here.

Repeat for several continents, so that you have four or five small plastic figures and down arrows distributed across your globe.

As a next step you might add gravity arrows to each of the figure's locations, giving a reason such as:

Teacher: Gravity is the name that we give the force that makes things fall. wherever we see things falling, we expect to find the force of gravity at work. Things fall down, as we've seen. So the gravity arrows and the down arrows point in the same direction.

Finally you might produce a two-dimensional diagram of your globe, as a summary of what you've been doing.

It might help the transition to this diagram to cast a shadow of your three-dimensional globe and plastic figures on the wall in such a way that you can trace around it. Cunning forward planning will ensure that at least three figures and their arrows appear as clear shadows, and at very different locations on the globe.

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today