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Learning About Forces and Motion with Ramps

I always look forward to the beginning of the school year and laying the foundation for science for the rest of the year. One of the first science topics in the 3rd grade curriculum is for students to learn about forces and motion. We study the basics about pushing and pulling forces and how those forces can cause motion. We touch on a few things on Earth that create a force such as gravity. To demonstrate forces and motion one of the recommended experiments is to have students push or pull a ball across their desks.

We like to put an extra twist on that and use the force of gravity to move the ball! This can be done with simple strips of cardboard but we decided to take it one step further and build reusable ramps for students to use in multiple experiments. We built 4 ramps, each 3 feet long out a single 1x4 board from the hardware store (we found scrap wood but a fresh board of this size and length should cost between $6 and $8). Jason had the idea to hinge the ramps so it would be easier to store them, so we cut each 3ft board section in half and used jewelry hinges (pennies each) to hinge them so they can fold in half. The railings are just plastic drywall edging which cost us about $2 per 10 feet. The total materials cost for all of the ramps was about $15.

Once we had the ramps, we cut pieces of cardboard to fit on top of the ramps. This will allow the students to create different surfaces (we used wax paper, bubble wrap, hot glue) and observe how the different surfaces impact the motion of the tennis ball.

The students LOVED working with the ramps and creating their own surfaces. They learned about the basics of the scientific method and formed hypothesis about which surfaces would impede the motion and which would improve it. The ramps allowed them to observe and collect information about what sorts of surfaces and angles were impacting the motion of the balls.

As an addition to the ramps, we built a simple 'radar gun' so students could actually measure their observations of how fast the tennis balls were rolling on the ramps. Jason wrote the details about the 'radar gun' in our next blog post, The Photoresistor 'Radar Gun'.

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