Energy, force, and motion


Week supplemental physical science curriculum; Each unit can be implemented in approximately 6–7 hours of class time, over 1–2 weeks

Learning Objectives

As lessons progress, students ask questions and define problems, plan and carry out investigations, identify patterns in data, and analyze and interpret data presented in graphs and charts.

Description of the learning processes and activities

The Playground Physics program combines informal, play-based, embodied learning experiences to support middle school students’ engagement with and motivation to learn about complex and abstract physics concepts.

Blending embodied physical and virtual activities in playful ways to support rigorous learning, Playground Physics offers an app and curriculum resources that allow middle school students to connect complex physics concepts to what they do in real life, including their deep, embodied intuitions about the concepts of motion, force, and energy; and to reason and discuss their experiences.

Using the app, users record videos of themselves and their friends engaging in physical play, and the app generates graphs of distance traveled, speed, direction, and kinetic and potential energy. As users watch the video, they see graphs of their movement unfolding. Users can pause to examine where they are moving fastest or slowest, where a force is pushing or pulling, and where their kinetic and potential energies area their highest and lowest points. This is intended to support conversations grounded in the children’s physical experience—for example, why “speed when jumping” decreases when a person is furthest from the ground. Students can refer to the graphs in their conversations about the video, using data to support their reasoning. This helps students uncover concepts that are not intuitive, such as the relationship between speed and motion, and provides a setting in which to explore them systematically.

In school settings, the program is implemented using a 6-week supplemental physical science curriculum comprising three units: energy, force, and motion. Each unit includes a review of the content knowledge, as well as common student misconceptions about the topic. Each unit centers exploration around a game that students play on the playground: playing catch for motion, jumping rope for force, and swinging for energy. Each unit can be implemented in approximately 6–7 hours of class time, over 1–2 weeks. Units are presented to students in the form of a guided exploration, starting with a lesson that helps students think about and reflect on their own embodied experiences.

Mapped to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS), the curriculum engages students with science practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. 

Resources required

Mobile devices and app