Bouncy Ball Graphs

One of my favorite tasks for students to do is to create well-coordinated position, velocity, and acceleration vs time graphs for a bouncy ball, where careful attention is given to the moments of contact with the floor. I got this task from my high school physics teacher, but it’s in Arons’ book as well. The future physics teachers have this as a content standard in my class. There are many predictable obstacles, but the real meat I want them to get to is reasoning about the acceleration. This is so not easy for them-partially because they mostly know acceleration through special cases, and partially because they aren’t strong in thinking about vector kinematics. Mostly students say the acceleration is constant. It’s like the bounce isn’t even on their radar when considering acceleration. Part of what I like about it, is that students know enough to get started and the task itself is clear. My job when they ask to assess, is to keep them talking until they notice some inconsistency, and then to help them orient to that inconsistency and how they knew there was something wrong. Then I send them off.

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