Forces and Motion

GPS-enabled stories of motion

Classroom Activity for 14-16 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

Many students will probably be carrying a GPS with them embedded in a mobile phone or other electronic device. These can be explored, together with freely available visualisation tools to bring some stores of everyday motion into their physics classroom. Depending on your class and personal style, you might offer a reward for the most interesting track.

What to Prepare

  • a set of GPX tracks downloaded from the students' mobile devices (You might provide a small library of GPX files for those who cannot make their own tracks – there are many such files on the internet, often placed there by runners, cyclists, or explorers.)
  • one large screen or many small screens
  • access to, or equivalent

What Happens During this Activity

You can, of course, use this either as a teacher-focused activity with a large screen, and a single computer, or a student-focused activity, where students use the visualisation tools for themselves. Since at least some of the tools are freely available on the internet, you might even ask students to process their tracks before class starts.

The range of things that students might consider will need to be adapted to the local environment. In a rural school located in undulating countryside, where some are known to cycle, a sample challenge might be:

Teacher: Can you show me some graphs that link the gradient of the hill to the speed you cycle at, on the way to school? Is your average speed higher on the way home?

But the emphasis ought to be on producing an illuminating trace, with some creative thinking going into the motions and into the displays. The best ones, suitably annotated, ought to be worthy of some wall space for a few weeks following the activity.

appears in the relation F=ma a=dv/dt a=-(w^2)x
is used in analyses relating to Terminal Velocity
can be represented by Motion Graphs
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