Forces and Motion

Stories about falling

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

What causes a fall? What can change how a fall happens?

The purpose of this activity is to begin to ascribe changes in a fall to the forces acting on the object. The forces are identified by hunting down interactions between the object and its environment. Initially we suggest producing two parallel descriptions: one about the forces and one about the speeds or velocities.

What to Prepare

  • a frame on which to describe the fall
  • real objects to walk through a fall

What Happens During this Activity

Drop something (choose something interesting, that will not break when it hits the floor). Then walk through the fall very slowly.

Ask for each of three or four stages:

Teacher: What is happening to the movement of (this falling thing) just here?

The three or four stages should be chosen wisely. We'd suggest:

  1. just as you release the object
  2. a short while after the object is released
  3. just before the object hits the floor
  4. as the object hits the floor

For each of the falls, we suggest completing a number of different descriptions – written, a cartoon drawing, a simplified diagram with arrows. For each kind of description, we'd suggest trying to draw out the difference between the descriptions of the motion and the causes the motion (that is between the forces and the speeds or velocities). Two parallel frames are useful here.

You might extend this activity by selecting a number of objects which vary in the way they travel through the air, such as:

  • a soft toy
  • a small stone
  • a feather
  • a sheet of paper
  • a screwed up ball of paper

Alternatively you might provide each of a number of small groups with a pair of dissimilar objects, and a printed copy of the frame. Each group should walk through the fall of both of their objects and agree on descriptions to write on the frame (a shared frame, A3 or larger, helps to promote discussion). The faster-moving groups could the encouraged to compare and contrast the two falls and their descriptions of these falls.

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