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Centripetal Force Activities

Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

The activities in this lesson focus on centripetal force. You can choose the hands-on, cooperative activities that best suit the grade level, learning styles, and abilities of your students.

Active Learning About Centripetal Force

Students often find the theoretical and math-heavy nature of physics to be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be! Hands-on, experiential learning gives students the chance to discover concepts in physics for themselves. The hands-on activities in this lesson are designed to meet a variety of learning styles, intellectual levels, and grades. Choose the activities that best fit your students and available materials.

Thrown for a Loop!

Materials

  • Plastic or paper cups
  • String
  • Variety of small materials (beads, pennies, and/or marbles)
  • Water

Directions

Poke holes in opposite sides of the lip of the cup and thread the string through to make a handle that's at least a foot long, when fully extended. Start the discussion by asking students if they've ridden a roller coaster with a loop. Ask they why they didn't fall out when the coaster reached the top of the loop. Explain how centripetal force acts to keep riders in the coaster, then demonstrate by adding beads to the cup and quickly swinging it in a circle.

Break students into groups of two or three. Distribute materials and have students and tell students to swing the cups in such a way that the beads don't fall out. Next, have the groups discuss whether this will also work for marbles, pennies, small pieces of paper, or even water. Allow groups to take materials to test their theories.

Tips

  • This activity is best done outside with plenty of space between groups!
  • Challenge students to find the slowest speed they can achieve that still keeps the material in the cups.
  • End the activity with an opportunity for the groups to report on what they discovered about centripetal force.

Centripetal Challenge

Materials

  • Rubber or soft plastic balls
  • Tall plastic pitchers or cups
  • Masking tape

Directions

Tape two lines approximately 4 feet apart on the classroom floor. Place students in groups of 2-3 then give each group a container and a ball. This works best with pitchers, especially ones that are wider at the bottom than at the top. Challenge the groups to devise a way to carry a ball inside the pitcher from one tape line to the other. The catch is, the pitcher must be held upside down!

Students will struggle to figure out a solution until eventually one group will hit on the idea of spinning the ball around the pitcher fast enough that centripetal force keeps it from falling when the pitcher is inverted. They can then quickly move from one line to the other.

Tips

After all the groups have a chance to successfully transport their rubber balls, lead a discussion about centripetal force and why it makes this possible.

Playground Physics

Materials

  • Piece of playground equipment - the merry go round.
  • Rulers
  • String
  • Weights (a metal nut would work)
  • Protractor (optional)

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