September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Newton’s Laws Rotation Activity

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Carolyn Peterson

For the chapter on Newton’s Laws, I designed a station-rotation activity following the introductory lesson. The introductory lesson explained the vocabulary, the different laws, and how to draw force diagrams. The rotations were created with the intent of making the subject approachable and relatable for the students. With this shared common experience from this activity, students were able to learn the deeper content in the following lessons by applying it to what they experienced in the rotations. Having a shared prior experience helped with class discussions and helped them relate concrete experiences to the new content. The stations and times are easily modified, but I used the resources I had in my classroom along with the time frame of our 80-minute class cycle. I split the students into seven groups so that only one group was at a station at any one time; then they all cleaned up and rotated simultaneously.

Here is a short video clip of my students in the midst of the activity.

Station 1:

At this station, students have one person sit in each rolling chair holding the end of the rope/scarf. One student just held while the other pulled the rope. Students manipulated variables such as resistance (feet up or down), weights of participants, and magnitude of the force pulling. They then described the results of their manipulations, drew a force diagram, and identified the Newton’s laws involved.

  • Materials = 2 rolling chairs, long rope or scarf

Station 2:

Students set a newspaper open and flat on a tabletop. They place a paint stir stick under the newspaper with about two to three inches sticking out from under it over the edge of the table. They experienced pushing down slowly then quickly karate chopping and then compared the results. They identified the Newton’s laws involved and drew a force diagram.

  • Materials = newspaper, paint stir sticks (if you say you will be using it for education, Home Depot gives you as many as you need for free)

Station 3:

Students raced three different sized balls using air through straws. They set up the three balls on the starting line and all blew at the same time with about the same force. They compared the results, changed the variables, retried, and saw what happened. They identified the Newton’s Laws involved and drew a force diagram.

  • Materials = 3 different sized balls (I had a ping pong, tennis, and bowling ball), straws, taped starting line on the floor


Station 4:

Here a belt was set up as a curved barrier and a marble was rolled along the inside edge. Students anticipated the path the marble would take on leaving the barrier, tried it, and explored the results. They were encouraged to set up the experiment in other fashions to see if they could change the trajectory. They finished by describing the Newton’s Laws involved and drawing a force diagram.

  • Materials = belt, marble

Station 5:

Here students used a spring scale to see how the force of gravity affects different sized weights. They recorded their findings with at least six different sized weights and graphing the mass vs. weight data and analyzing the slope.

  • Materials = spring scale, various weights

Station 6:

Students referenced their data from station 5 to use the formula for weight to perform calculations.

  • Materials = calculators

Station 7:

This last station was designed to help students see vector addition in action. They used washers and weights at various angles to anticipate and see how the angle between three vectors needs different weights to balance out. My students actually really appreciated this visual and will often refer back to this part of the activity when struggling with vector addition later in the year.

  • Materials = vector addition force table, weights/washers, electronic scale

Click here for a PDF worksheet for this activity.

Carolyn Peterson is a physics teacher at Lutheran High School of Orange County and was invited to write for CCS by CSTA President Laura Henriques

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.