8 • Getting Kinetic

Note: Lesson Plan and worksheets in MS Word and/or pdf format can be downloaded below.

Title:  Getting Kinetic: Understanding Motion Graphs with PASCO Motion Detectors and DataStudio software
Created By: Annie Perkins, Ashford School, Ashford, CT
Grade Level: 8
Targeted Discipline:  Science - Physics - Motion
Revised Date:  June 30, 2009

Students in grades six through eight enjoy getting out of their seats and moving around and they love a challenge. This set of activities allows them challenge themselves to replicate a motion graph with their own bodies. Students are motivated to “get the best score” on the PASCO EZ Screen activity, which provides them with four motion graphs to replicate by moving their bodies relative to a motion detector. Students are then asked to create their own motion graphs in DataStudio that will be closely copied by their lab partners’ movement relative to the PASCO motion detector.

PASCO probes are useful tools for gathering data remotely and continuously over a period of time. Learning how to use the GLX handheld computing unit and the laptop with DataStudio software are important to effective data collection and analysis in middle school and beyond. Interpreting graphs is also a fundamental skill in both math and science, so this activity is both a great introduction to data collection technology and a fun way to practice data analysis skills. For some students this activity is the first time they will be using the PASCO probes; however, at our school, most students will have had some experience using the temperature probes, weather sensor, flow rate meter, and/or voltmeter in prior grade levels.

The Lesson / Unit
•    Lesson objectives:
Students will construct an understanding of how to interpret graphs of position vs. time.
•    Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions
•    How does a position v. time graph describe an object’s motion?
•    How should I move my own position relative to a motion detector in order to come closest to a position v. time graph shown on a computer screen?
•    Motion detectors are a tool scientists use to measure the speed or acceleration of an object.
•    What does the slope of a line on a distance v. time or speed v. time graph tell us about the speed or acceleration of an object?

•    Task description
•    The introduction to motion detectors and position v. time graphs happens as a whole class activity using the EZ Screen graphs projected onto the Smartboard. I ask for a brave volunteer to try to replicate the motion represented by one of the graphs. By asking questions to help students predict how the volunteer should move at various time intervals, I can gauge how many volunteers and how many trials are needed before the students are ready to work on their own in smaller working groups.
•    Science journals/Notebooks:
Students draw their own position v. time graph (using graph paper) in their science notebooks and describe how they would move their bodies to replicate the graph they have drawn. Guiding questions are given to students to help them think about how their movement would correspond to the graph drawn on the DataStudio screen. (See student worksheet #1.)

•    Context within which the work was produced
I have engaged groups of students with this activity for two years now and this year, I wanted to find ways for students to deepen their understanding through reflection and journaling. Year one, students replicated the motion of the EZ Screen projected on the SMARTBoard in a whole class context. The activity was engaging, but over too quickly for long-term retention. Year two, the task was extended by adding the small group activity with students creating their own motion graphs using the GLX handheld units. Students complained that the GLX units were hard to read from far away and that students’ graphs were too crazy and could not be replicated easily. This year, when students created their motion graphs, they were able to see the graph more easily using DataStudio software loaded on Mac iBooks. Students were also asked to describe their movement in writing, so their peers could replicate the motion as closely as possible.  Student interaction time with the content was extended and small groups were engaging supportively rather than competitively.

•    Prior learning required
•    Students are able to get more out of this task if they come to it having read an introduction to position v. time graphs ahead of time; however, the activity could also be the motivator for students to want to learn more. Three resources that are appropriate for an 8th grade reading level and address how to interpret position v. time graphs are: Prentice Hall’s Motion, Forces, and Energy textbook from the Science Explorer series; the online Physics Classroom pages (http://www.glenbrook.k12.il.us/gbssci/phys/Class/1DKin/U1L3a.html); and Mr. Hand’s website (http://www.mansfieldct.org/schools/mms/staff/hand/lawsunderstandingpositiontimegraphs.htm).
•    Students should come in with some prior knowledge about motion terminology and the SI units with which these concepts are measured: reference point, distance, time, speed, and acceleration
•    I have the students explore two questions before this activity: “How fast is the average walking speed?” and “How does the incline of a ramp affect the speed of a car rolling down the ramp?” Versions of these labs are described in the Prentice Hall Motion, Forces, and Energy textbook.
•    I also have students read and answer questions from the Motion and Forces textbook published by Prentice Hall. This gives an introduction to distance over time graphs and speed over time graphs written at a middle school reading level.

•    Types of groupings used in this task
Students work in groups of 3-4 to create their own motion graphs in DataStudio. The EZ Screen competition that introduces the AE is done as a whole-class challenge initially.

•    Any differentiated strategies used in this task
Extensions: Student groups who have demonstrated an ability to replicate the motion graphs closely and describe to each other the motion that each of their graphs represents are encouraged to use the slope tool on the DataStudio software or GLX handheld unit to find how the speed on a curved line actually changes. I also project the EZ Screen graphs on the SmartBoard and encourage groups to calculate the slope of the straight lines and discuss what a negative slope means.
Adaptations: Students who struggle with the concept of a position v. time graph may need repeated experience with replicating the EZ Screen graphs with their own bodies before going on to the DataStudio software. Students who struggle with reading or writing may have written descriptions of their own motion that are less sophisticated and I adjust my expectations accordingly. Some students may need additional practice with answering specific questions about additional graphs. Students who struggle with spacial concepts may also need the verbal or written direction of their peers throughout the activity to reinforce what these position v. time graphs mean.


The EZ Screen activity, which we do as a whole class, deserves a formative assessment of how well each student engages and participates either by giving directions/suggestions to their peers or actually participating in the challenge.

Journal entries are assessed by how well students’ descriptions of motion match their groups’ position v. time graphs. Students are also asked to answer five questions from their worksheet into their notebooks. Questions relating to position v. time graphs are included in a Motion Quiz and the Physics Final as well.


I have had students using the PASCO motion detectors to create and replicate motion graphs as part of their Physics unit for two years now. The first year, the students used the handheld GLX units to try to graph their motion and replicate it. This year, based on feedback from the  students who said the GLX units were too difficult to read from a distance, I had DataStudio loaded onto laptops. With some of the groups this year, I even had some groups type their descriptions of their motion into the workbook capabilities of DataStudio. Next year, I would like to expand student use of the workbook features when organizing their groups’ motion graphs.

Generally, students are motivated and engaged by the EZ Screen whole-class challenge activity, but can get very competitive. Sometimes feelings get hurt or some students who are struggling to understand how to interpret speed graphs are embarrassed. In order to minimize anyone feeling unsafe, I recommend loading the EZ Screen software on the laptops, so that students can work in pairs or in groups of 3-4 students to help each other reach their personal best scores. Those who enjoy the competitive challenge may want to demonstrate their prowess as a whole class demonstration

One thing to point out when the Motion EZ Screen comes up is that though the y-axis is labeled “Position (m),” it means the same thing as distance from the motion detector when and if students are moving in a straight line away or toward the motion detector. This is a wonderful lead-in to a discussion of the difference between the terms position and distance.

Material Resources

•    PASCO Motion Detector
•    PASCO USB Link
•    Laptop computer with DataStudio software
•    SmartBoard (helpful, but optional)
•    Prentice Hall Science Explorer textbook: Motion, Forces, and Energy

Technology Resources and Web Links

Mr. Hand’s website page explaining position v. time graphs: http://www.mansfieldct.org/schools/mms/staff/hand/lawsunderstandingpositiontimegraphs.htm

The Physics Classroom website page explaining position v. time graphs:

PASCO website sample experiments: http://www.pasco.com/middle/experiments/online/index.cfm

CT Curriculum Frameworks
Forces and Motion – What makes objects move the way they do?
8.1 - An object’s inertia causes it to continue moving the way it is moving unless it is acted upon by a force to change its motion.
•    The motion of an object can be described by its position, direction of motion and speed.
C22: Calculate the average speed of a moving object and illustrate the motion of objects in graphs of distance over time.
CINQ.5 - Use appropriate tools and techniques to make observations and gather data.
CINQ.7 - Identify and present relationships between variables in appropriate graphs.
Student and/or Teacher Technology Standards
National Educational Technology Standars (NETS)
1.    Creativity and Innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
a.    Students apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
2.    Communication and Collaboration: Student use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
a.    Students interact, collaborate and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
3.    Research and Information Fluency: Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
a.    Students plan strategies to guide inquiry.
d.    Students process data and report results.
6. Technology Operations and Concepts: Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.
b.  Students select and use applications effectively and productively.

Marji Roy,
Aug 30, 2009, 6:23 AM
Marji Roy,
Aug 30, 2009, 6:24 AM