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published by the Physics Education Technology Project
written by the UTeach - University of Texas
This middle school lesson plan blends a classroom experiment with the interactive PhET simulation Masses and Springs. Students design and conduct an experiment to test their predictions about the behavior of springs with masses attached. The simulation is used to explore kinetic and potential energy of spring motion and to visualize how the spring moves on different planets with varied gravitational constants. The lesson provides extensive background information for both educators and learners, scripted teacher discussion, student guides, and assessment materials with answer keys.

The "Masses & Springs" simulation (which is required to complete this activity) is available from PhET at: Masses & Springs.

This lesson is part of the PhET (Physics Education Technology Project), a large collection of free interactive science simulations.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
- Work and Energy
Oscillations & Waves
- Oscillations
= Damped Oscillators
= Hooke's Law
= Springs and Oscillators
- Middle School
- Instructional Material
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Interactive Simulation
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
- Assessment Material
Intended Users Formats Ratings
- Educators
- Learners
- application/pdf
- application/flash
- application/ms-word
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Access Rights:
Free access
© 2012 PHET; University of Colorado at Boulder
Additional information is available.
Hooke's Law, damping, elastic potential energy, experimental design, fair test, friction, harmonic oscillation, middle school experiment, simple harmonic motion, spring constant, springs
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created September 24, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 18, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
June 22, 2012
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • 3-5: 1B/E1. Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments.
  • 3-5: 1B/E2b. One reason for following directions carefully and for keeping records of one's work is to provide information on what might have caused differences in investigations.
  • 6-8: 1B/M1b. Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
  • 6-8: 1B/M2ab. If more than one variable changes at the same time in an experiment, the outcome of the experiment may not be clearly attributable to any one variable. It may not always be possible to prevent outside variables from influencing an investigation (or even to identify all of the variables).

4. The Physical Setting

4E. Energy Transformations
  • 6-8: 4E/M1. Whenever energy appears in one place, it must have disappeared from another. Whenever energy is lost from somewhere, it must have gone somewhere else. Sometimes when energy appears to be lost, it actually has been transferred to a system that is so large that the effect of the transferred energy is imperceptible.
  • 6-8: 4E/M4. Energy appears in different forms and can be transformed within a system. Motion energy is associated with the speed of an object. Thermal energy is associated with the temperature of an object. Gravitational energy is associated with the height of an object above a reference point. Elastic energy is associated with the stretching or compressing of an elastic object. Chemical energy is associated with the composition of a substance. Electrical energy is associated with an electric current in a circuit. Light energy is associated with the frequency of electromagnetic waves.
4F. Motion
  • 3-5: 4F/E1bc. The greater the force is, the greater the change in motion will be. The more massive an object is, the less effect a given force will have.
4G. Forces of Nature
  • 3-5: 4G/E1. The earth's gravity pulls any object on or near the earth toward it without touching it.

9. The Mathematical World

9B. Symbolic Relationships
  • 3-5: 9B/E2. Tables and graphs can show how values of one quantity are related to values of another.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 3-5: 11B/E3. A model of something is similar to, but not exactly like, the thing being modeled. Some models are physically similar to what they are representing, but others are not.
  • 3-5: 11B/E4. Models are very useful for communicating ideas about objects, events, and processes. When using a model to communicate about something, it is important to keep in mind how it is different from the thing being modeled.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
12E. Critical-Response Skills
  • 3-5: 12E/E3. Seek reasons for believing something rather than just claiming "Everybody knows that…" or "I just know" and discount such claims when made by others.
  • 6-8: 12E/M5b. Notice and criticize the reasoning in arguments in which the claims are not consistent with the evidence given.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Standards for Mathematical Practice (K-12)

MP.3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Measurement and Data (K-5)

Represent and interpret data. (1-5)
  • 3.MD.4 Generate measurement data by measuring lengths using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. Show the data by making a line plot, where the horizontal scale is marked off in appropriate units— whole numbers, halves, or quarters.

Ratios and Proportional Relationships (6-7)

Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems. (6)
  • 6.RP.1 Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities.
Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems. (7)
  • 7.RP.2.b Identify the constant of proportionality (unit rate) in tables, graphs, equations, diagrams, and verbal descriptions of proportional relationships.

Common Core State Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects 6—12

Key Ideas and Details (6-12)
  • RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Common Core State Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6—12

Text Types and Purposes (6-12)
  • 2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes. (WHST.6-8.2)
Research to Build and Present Knowledge (6-12)
  • WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

NSES Content Standards

Con.B: Physical Science
  • 5-8: Motion & Forces
  • 9-12: Motions & Forces
  • 9-12: Conservation of Energy & Increase in Disorder
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Record Link
AIP Format
UTeach - University of Texas, (Physics Education Technology Project, Boulder, 2012), WWW Document, (
UTeach - University of Texas, PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces, (Physics Education Technology Project, Boulder, 2012), <>.
APA Format
UTeach - University of Texas. (2012, June 22). PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from Physics Education Technology Project:
Chicago Format
UTeach - University of Texas. PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces. Boulder: Physics Education Technology Project, June 22, 2012. (accessed 26 February 2017).
MLA Format
UTeach - University of Texas. PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces. Boulder: Physics Education Technology Project, 2012. 22 June 2012. 26 Feb. 2017 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "UTeach - University of Texas", Title = {PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces}, Publisher = {Physics Education Technology Project}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {26 February 2017}, Month = {June 22, 2012}, Year = {2012} }
Refer Export Format

%Q UTeach - University of Texas
%T PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces
%D June 22, 2012
%I Physics Education Technology Project
%C Boulder
%O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%A UTeach - University of Texas,
%D June 22, 2012
%T PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces
%I Physics Education Technology Project
%V 2017
%N 26 February 2017
%8 June 22, 2012
%9 application/pdf

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PhET Teacher Activities: Experimental Design with Forces:

Requires PhET Simulation: Masses & Springs

A link to the PhET simulation Masses & Springs, which must be running in order to complete this lesson.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as PhET Teacher Activities: Introduction to Oscillations

Link to another lesson created by PhET teacher-fellows for middle school. This lesson introduces frequency and period as students work to design a safe bungee jump for an amusement park.

relation by Caroline Hall

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