Representing Kinematics with Graphs

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  • 0:01 For the Visual Learners
  • 0:50 The X/Y Graph
  • 2:00 Setting Up Your Graph
  • 2:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Hartsock

Angela has taught college Microbiology and has a doctoral degree in Microbiology.

In this lesson, we will introduce how to use graphs to visually represent kinematics. For some students, graphing these types of problems is easier than using algebra equations.

For the Visual Learners

The other day I was flipping through channels on the TV when I came to one of those competitive spelling bees. I stopped to watch for a minute but got really discouraged. Despite the fact that I was pretty familiar with most of the words, I couldn't spell them out loud correctly. I finally had to resort to writing them out on paper just to prove to myself that I'm not a terrible speller. Some people just have the ability to spontaneously spell words aloud, while others are lost without pencil and paper.

For those of you lost by all the formulas, variables, and algebra that comes along with kinematics problems, there is another way. Kinematics can be represented graphically. This is a skill that everyone needs to master, but hopefully the visual learners in the group will gain a much greater understanding of kinematics once they have a way to actually see what's going on.

The X/Y Graph

I'm sure you've all seen the basic x/y graphs from algebra class. Just as a refresher, below is what I'm talking about. You've got your horizontal x axis and vertical y axis laid out on a grid. You can assign almost any variable to x and y. For example, as you walk, you travel a certain number of meters in a certain number of seconds. So, you can call x seconds and y meters. On the y (meters) axis, each grid line is equal to 1 meter. On the x (seconds) axis, each grid line is equal to 1 second.


All you need to do is measure how many meters you can walk in a second and plot those values. If you can walk 1 meter every second, after 1 second, you walked 1 meter. So, simply look on the map where the 1 second and 1 meter lines cross. After 2 seconds, you walked 2 meters, so plot that point, and so on. Once you've plotted several points, you can draw a line connecting your points.


This technique for visualizing kinematics can be applied to displacement, velocity, and acceleration. All you have to do is change the variables on the x and y axes to match the information you have.

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