Using Technology to Understand Acceleration
Lesson Objective: Apply knowledge of acceleration to real-world situations
Grades 9-12 / Science / Physics

Thought starters

  1. Why is it helpful to start with a scavenger hunt?
  2. How does the use of technology enrich this lesson?
  3. Mr. Sherred talks about having students work with alternative representations. Why is this important?
To get access to the CAST lesson visit There is a link to get started at the bottom of the page. If you have trouble don't hesitate to contact me at
Recommended (1)
I looked at cast and cannot find the actual simulation for this lesson. How do I see the lesson itself, what the students used on their computers.
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The computers integrated appropriately into this lesson. The students need relevant technological skills to input information and responses. This video is a good example how students may use technology to develop problem-solving skills and increase their technological skills.
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Visible Thinking in action!
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  • Using Technology to Understand Acceleration Transcript

    Potential Energy

    Jim Sherred VO/OC I'm going to give you five minutes. There

    Using Technology to Understand Acceleration Transcript

    Potential Energy

    Jim Sherred VO/OC I'm going to give you five minutes. There are four questions down at the bottom of the "Do Now" which I just passed out. You can find the answers directly in the text. I'm not trying to trick you. You'll get a point for each question that you answer. Okay.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC My name is Jim Sherred. I teach...

    Jim Sherred 9th Grade TechBoston Academy, Dorchester, MA

    ...physics to the 9th grade at TechBoston Academy which is a Boston public school. TechBoston's a pilot school which means that we have a lot more freedoms than normal district schools do. So, for example, I'm allowed to come up with whatever curriculum that I want to teach as long as it's aligned to the standards.

    Jim Sherred OC So we're starting something brand new today. We have talked about energy before when we were talking about global warming. We were talking about heat transfer and the three different ways that it can happen. You remember those, right?

    Jim Sherred VO/OC Today's an introduction really to the whole unit on energy but I start with potential energy. And gravitational potential energy is about when you lift something up, it contains energy. That is, when you lift something up, it's almost like pulling on a, pulling on an elastic band. When you lift something up, it wants to come back down. It starts off with a real short activity where the students read through a paragraph or two about potential energy. And it's based on sort of a real world thing where they have to think about whether they'd want a paper clip or a piano to fall on them. And that's a no brainer, right? The questions about the story that I ask are directly from the text, too, which makes it so that all the students can be successful. And I also lead into the activity. They're going to need to use, for example, the acceleration due to gravity and that's embedded in the story.

    Jim Sherred OC The little g that's talked about here. What does that stand for? Somebody that I haven't heard from. Emily.

    Emily OC The acceleration due to gravity.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC The acceleration due to gravity. Make sure that you have that phrase down there, the acceleration due to gravity. It's not gravitational force. Clearly, it's related to it. But little g stands for the acceleration due to gravity.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC The students have to know how to use the equation for potential energy where PE is the stand-in for Potential Energy. Where if they wanted to calculate that, they would have to multiply mass which is symbolized by an M and G which is the acceleration to the gravity and they'll put a H which is the symbol for how high up it is. So they need to understand not only those representations but they also need to understand their relationship among each other. And those are two standards that are in the Common Core.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC You guys are going to break into groups of three and you're going to go onto my website. Follow the link to Gizmos, and you're going to do exploration about potential energy on shelves.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC The Gizmos are really interactive. They're all tied to State Standards, and the students really enjoy them. There are five different levels that the object can be on. And there are three different objects of different masses. And the masses are not given on the Gizmo. So after they know the masses by going through the steps, they can compare two objects with different masses. The first activity that they're going to do is they're going to put them both on the same shelf and make a prediction about which one is going to have the most potential energy. And then test that prediction using the Gizmo.

    Jim Sherred VO Well we know the potential energy of the ball is .98 jewels because we just wrote that down, right? And we also know the acceleration due to gravity which is right here. We know that little g is equal to 9.8 meters per second squared. And what shelf did I lift it to? The one meter shelf. So Delta H is equal to one meter.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC I call it the four column method. It just breaks down word problems so that they know that you know the first part is what are you looking for in this problem. And that goes in the first box. And then what do you know? All the givens the problem tells you, go in the second box. And then the equation that is going to be used to solve for whatever you're looking for goes in the third. And then it leaves the last box for the solution.

    Female Student #1 VO You have to find the PE. And then we got to find.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC Having the ability to use technology is a great help to my teaching. And something as abstract as potential energy all of a sudden becomes very real when the students are able to play around with virtual objects and see how the potential energy is changing for them. So it's just a real bridge to the content objectives.

    Female Student In Blue Sweater OC Two clips on the deck and lift them up onto each shelf. Record the data for each shelf and then table below.

    Female Student With Curly Hair VO .38. 39.8.

    Jim Sherred VO/OC The students know how to help each other way better than I do. And to teach somebody else something that you've just learned, first of all, reinforces your own understanding of it way better. And it's also much easier for the students to understand it when they're explaining it to each other as they're developing their understanding.

    Jim Sherred OC You got it?

    Jim Sherred VO/OC They were doing learning. I wasn't lecturing the students. I wasn't telling them the answers. The students were finding the answers. I'd go into the guiding questions. So I think the less that I'm doing, frankly, the better I'm doing my job. It takes a lot of work to get to that point where I'm not giving out all the information where the students are finding the information.

    Male Student In White Tee Shirt VO Yeah, 1.96 plus, times two.

    Male Student In Black Jacket VO S equal G. No, S, double it.

    Male Student In Gray Jacket Vo Dividing the height.

    Male Student In White Tee Shirt Vo Dividing the height.

    Male Student In Gray Jacket VO Dividing the height.

    Male Student In Black Jacket OC PE divided by MG.

    Jim Sherred VO Though part of the conversation that I had about the Common Core is that I am new to it. And I'm not worried about it because I believe good teaching is good teaching. And I believe that I already incorporate a lot of making sure that things are tied to narrative and to story. And my students need to be able to find information in texts. And if they're not able to do that, I need to find ways to support them so that they can get that information so that they can access the contents.


Jim Sherred


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