Editor selections by Topic and Unit

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Conceptual Physics: Measurement and the Language of Physics Units

This topic contains a selection of units designed to help you to teach physics. In physics, using precise measurements and standard units is important in comparing physical quantities and understanding basic concepts.

  Frames of Reference (4)

Lesson Plans:

Any measurement of position, distance, or speed must be made with respect to a reference frame. This item is 3-part module for teaching frames of reference. It contains background information, warm-up questions, and step-by-step procedures for lessons on the aberration of starlight and a non-mathematical introduction to the Theory of Relativity.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: High School Physics
Duration: 2-3 class periods

Activities:

All motion is relative to a frame of reference. This interactive animation is a great introduction to a topic that is often difficult for students to grasp.  It shows how the motion of a bouncing basketball looks different depending on whether the observer is standing still, walking in the same direction as the player, or walking in the opposite direction. It offers nine scenarios (frames of reference), and students must answer questions from the observer's viewpoint.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 7-12
Duration: 20-30 minutes

When introducing frames of reference, it helps if your students have a sense of scale. In this wonderful update of "Powers of 10", your students view images of the Milky Way at 10 million light years from Earth, then move through space at successive orders of magnitude until they reach an oak tree in Florida. After that, the applet decreases in progression down to molecular structure of one leaf, and on to chromatin, DNA, and subatomic particles.

Item Type: Image Set
Level: Grades 4-12
Duration: 15 minutes

Student Tutorials:

This unique website compares the magnitude and size of a broad variety of objects, using colored histograms for ease of visual comparison. Objects range from the nanoscale to distances between galaxies.  Most items are linked to annotated reference pages.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: 30 minutes

  Physics Terminology (3)

Activities:

If you've never visited the award-winning Hyperphysics web site, put it on your list. It is a set of online tutorials that features concept maps laid out in a web-like fashion for easy navigation. This page describes units of measurement, unit conversions, dimensional analysis, and basic mechanical quantities. Some of the maps are "active graphics", which link to capsules of background information. Remarkably easy to use!

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

References and Collections:

As the name implies, this web page offers non-scientists a guide to SI. The materials are written so that a user with little prior experience with metrics can comprehend the measurements and how they are applied mathematically.  ***NOTE: This is a 1.5MB download.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

Student Tutorials:

To a beginning student, the unfamiliar language of physics can seem like a foreign tongue. This tutorial, part of the respected Physics Classroom collection, is an interactive introduction to some basic terminology. It focuses on scalars, vectors, distance, and displacement.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: 30 minutes

  Units of Measure (7)

Activities:

This item provides rules and "how-tos" for calculating both the relative and absolute uncertainty in a measurement.

Item Type: Tutorial
Level: Teacher Support

This resource is a digital tool for performing unit conversions with the extra feature of displaying cancellation of terms, helping students to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical processes involved.  Students can convert among 25 physical quantities, including units such as force, temperature, energy, and current.

Item Type: Mathematical Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

All mechanical quantities can be expressed in terms of three quantities: length, mass, and time. This item is part of the highly-regarded Hyperphysics concept maps. It describes units of measurement, unit conversions, dimensional analysis, and basic mechanical quantities. Some of the maps are "active graphics", which link to capsules of background information. Remarkably easy to use!

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: High School

Information at the foundation of modern science and technology from the Physics Laboratory of NIST

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

This comprehesive guide on SI encompasses tables, charts, drawings, and a coherent set of text explanations of base units, derived units, common quantities, equivalencies, and prefixes.  It is written so that a user with no prior experience with metrics can comprehend the measurements and how they are applied mathematically.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

Teachers will find in-depth information on base units, derived units, and relationships among SI units in this free web site developed and maintained by NIST (the National Institute for Science and Technology). Don't miss the link to the "Digital Dutch" unit converter.  It is amazingly easy to use.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

Assessment:

This resource is a formal study addressing two research questions:  1)  Does student understanding of measurement processes change through active lab participation, and 2) What patterns exist in how students understand this topic  prior to intensive lab participation.  This resource links to the full article at no cost to the user.

Item Type: Scholarly Article
Level: Teacher Support

  Applying Measurement in Physics (13)

Lesson Plans:

This 3-day inquiry-based lesson is a great way for students to discover what "accuracy" and "precision" mean in measurement. Fun hands-on activities include measuring objects using ancient "cubit" units and tossing foam darts to gather data. The lesson concludes as students work cooperatively to explore using significant figures in an Internet project.

Item Type: Cooperative Learning
Level: Grades 7-12
Duration: 3 class periods

An exceptional resource collection on how to integrate "direct measurement videos". These high-speed short videos feature tools for easy analysis of various physical situations:  rulers, grids, frame-counters, and screen overlays for making precise measurements. Includes 9 teaching modules with lesson plans, assessments and answer keys, and pedagogical background. Does not require purchase or installation of video analysis software.

Item Type: Video Analysis Lessons
Level: Grades 8-12

Activities:

This cost-free web page allows teachers and learners to easily create and print graphs for use as visual communication tools.  With one click, the students may choose from five graph types: bar, line, area, pie, and X/Y.  Various patterns, colors, grids, and label choices are available to allow customization.

Item Type: Graph-Making Tool
Level: Grades 4-12

A simple online game to help beginning students get a feel for the rules of significant figures. The score is automatically tallied, with explanations given for incorrect responses.  **After completing this activity, try the resource directly below in cooperative learning groups. For background info, see the tutorial below from the University of Guelph.

Item Type: Interactive Game
Level: High School
Duration: 20-30 minutes

After introducing the rules of significant figures, students can test their skills in this interactive drill & skill. We suggest setting up cooperative learning groups to make it a game.  NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: beginning students often misunderstand or overestimate the usefulness of significant figures. In real-world research laboratories, practicing scientists commonly express uncertainty quantities as a separate numeral. Good examples of how to express uncertainty can be found in the NIST Fundamental Physical Constants (Reference below).

Item Type: Problem Set
Level: High School
Duration: 30 minutes

How small is the error between two and three significant digits? How about three and four digits? Can the error be ignored? This activity would be a great choice for students who have already been exposed to the basics of significant figures. They enter a number, then select the number of significant digits from 1-5. The resultant numbers are automatically displayed, plus the percent error.

Item Type: Interactive Problem Set
Level: High School
Duration: 30 minutes

This is a really nice interactive simulation to give students virtual practice in using a micrometer, a device for doing ultra-precise measurement down to the level of 1 micrometer. Each time the "reset" button is pressed, a random-size object appears on screen. Students use sliders to move the object into place, perform the measurement, and check the accuracy of their reading.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 7-12
Duration: 30 minutes

This Java-based activity lets students manipulate a 3-D rectangular prism or triangular prism to explore surface area and volume. It's designed to help secondary students visualize the relationship of width, depth, and height in calculating and estimating volume/surface area.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 5-10
Duration: 30 minutes

References and Collections:

This resource is a formal study addressing two research questions:  1)  Does student understanding of measurement processes change through active lab participation, and 2) What patterns exist in how students understand this topic  prior to intensive lab participation.  This resource links to the full article at no cost to the user.

Item Type: Scholarly Article
Level: Teacher Support

Values of the fundamental physical constants, recommended for international use, are provided at this web site. These are the latest values of the constants recommended by CODATA (updated in 2006).  Need background information?  It's all there, in an easily-searchable format.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Grades 9-12

Student Tutorials:

This item, part of the Open Door website, discusses the role of uncertainty in measurement.  Students learn the difference between systematic and random error, and gain practice in quantifying the error.  Also find high-quality sections on the Vernier scale, "best-fit line", and sampling frequency.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: High School
Duration: One class period

Measurement of physical objects is, by nature, imprecise. When rounding numbers, you must use enough digits to minimize errors.  However, if too many digits are used, errors can be easily made keeping track of all the numerical values. This tutorial will help students with the basic rules.  
**Under Activities above are two applets to give students interactive practice in significant figures.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School
Duration: 30 minutes

Converting between units doesn't have to be frustrating to your students. This tutorial, part of an award-winning collection, is the best we found for demonstrating how to use unit cancellation to solve problems involving unit conversions.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

  For the New Teacher (4)

Activities:

This digital unit converter offers students more than the typical online conversion resource.  It allows conversion among 25 physical quantities, from more common applications (force, energy, current, voltage) to lesser-used conversions such as illuminance and magnetic flux.  It provides the additional feature of displaying cancellation of terms, helping beginners to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical processes involved.

Item Type: Mathematical Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

This site is designed to be a resource for learning introductory level, algebra based, physics.  Lessons and review are organized by topic.  A $5.00 annual fee gives access to additional simulations and resources.

Item Type: Tutorial Collection
Level: High School Physics

This resource is a comprehensive guide on SI for teachers and students.  It contains tables, charts, and text explanations of base units, derived units, equivalencies, common quantities, and prefixes.  To aid the learner in visualizing quantities, drawings of common multiples are provided for each of the base units.  The materials are written so that a user with no prior experience with metrics can comprehend the measurements and how they are applied mathematically.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

Content Support For Teachers:

This item, part of the Open Door website, discusses the role of uncertainty in measurement.  Review the difference between systematic and random error, and gain practice in quantifying the error.  Also find high-quality sections on the Vernier scale, "best-fit line", and sampling frequency.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Teacher Support

  Teaching Tools (3)

Activities:

A helpful online unit converter for teachers and students.

Item Type: Mathematical Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

This cost-free web page allows teachers and learners to easily create and print graphs for use as visual communication tools.  With one click, the students may choose from five graph types: bar, line, area, pie, and X/Y.  Various patterns, colors, grids, and label choices are available to allow customization.

Item Type: Graph-Making Tool
Level: Grades 4-12

Assessment:

Here is a set of free assessment tools for grades 6-12 on topics that cover force and motion, waves, properties of matter, and chemistry.  Diagnoser assessments are aligned with NSES standards and Benchmarks, and include elicitation (warm-ups) and developmental lessons.  After completing the lesson, Diagnoser provides a computer program that poses questions and feedback for students via the internet.  The final step in the process is "Prescriptive Activities", designed to target specific problematic areas located by Diagnoser.

Item Type: Assessment Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

  Dimensional Analysis (4)

Activities:

Dimensional analysis (DA) is a technique that is used to change any unit from one to another and to validate equations. Students who understand DA have a definite advantage in solving problems. This terrific interactive tutorial starts with slowly-paced guidance, then progresses with conversion problems. Cool tools include a "Pencil & Eraser" allowing students to draw lines to cancel units, and a "Balance" tool to tell them whether their conversion factors are valid. Requires Shockwave plug-in.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One class period

Content Support For Teachers:

This web page is part of the highly-regarded Hyperphysics concept maps. It describes units of measurement, unit conversions, dimensional analysis, and basic mechanical quantities. Some of the maps are "active graphics", which link to capsules of background information. Remarkably easy to use!

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

Student Tutorials:

Dimensions of a quantity refer to the combination of units or base quantities that make it up. Most physical quantities can be expressed in terms of five basic dimensions and their combinations: mass, length, time, electrical current, and temperature. Often, students have difficulty understanding why dimensions are different than units. This tutorial contains basic information, 3 short quizzes and one longer post-test. Your students can move at their own pace or work in cooperative groups. **NOTE: This activity can be done without computers, as all components are printable.

Item Type: Instructional Module
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: 2-3 class periods

Your students will need to understand how to cancel units before they can solve problems using dimensional analysis. Beginning with simple one-step conversions, it progresses to problems requiring multiple conversions. Students will like the informal writing style by the author, whose motto is "If I can do this stuff, then so can you!"

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

  Scale, Order of Magnitude, and Estimation (4)

Activities:

Students explore size estimation in 1, 2, and 3 dimensions. Multiple levels of difficulty allow for progressive skill improvement. CAUTION: This activity is addictive!

Item Type: Interactive Animation
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: One class period

An updated version of "Powers of 10".  View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from Earth, then move through space at successive orders of magnitude until you reach an oak tree in Florida. After than, move from a single leaf to the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA, and subatomic particles.

Item Type: Image Set
Level: Grades 4-12
Duration: 15 minutes

Interactively explore various specimens as they appear under a scanning electron microscope (SEM).  SEM can produce very high-resolution photos of details as small as 1-5 nanometers. Students can adjust the focus, brightness, and contrast, and choose from a cockroach, pollen grain, diatom, a gecko foot, a jellyfish, and more. Each successive image doubles the magnitude of the magnification.

Item Type: Images/Illustrations
Level: Grades 5-12
Duration: 30 minutes

This newer and beautifully designed version of Powers of 10 takes students on a "nano-journey" inside a carbon-based cell, an LED diode, and a laptop microchip. At each descending level, you can click on background information and additional Flash simulations. Kids can choose from 3 images and send "postcards" to friends about their journey. Fair warning:  this resource is so engaging, be prepared to spend at least an hour on your trip.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: One Class Period

  Assessments (3)

References and Collections:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally administered, continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas.  This website provides free access to the most recent assessment questions, organized by topic and level. Teachers can view an analysis of the results to see short-term and long-term trends in samples of students at ages 9, 13, or 17 years.

Item Type: Assessment Tool
Level: Grades K-12

Assessment:

This activity helps students understand concepts of position and coordinates. Students must locate points on a graph paper using either components or distance and angle.

Item Type: Problem Set
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One class period

Here is a set of free assessment tools for grades 6-12 on topics that cover force and motion, waves, properties of matter, and chemistry.  Diagnoser assessments are aligned with NSES standards and Benchmarks, and include elicitation (warm-ups) and developmental lessons.  After completing the lesson, Diagnoser provides a computer program that poses questions and feedback for students via the internet.  The final step in the process is "Prescriptive Activities", designed to target specific problematic areas located by Diagnoser.

Item Type: Assessment Tool
Level: Grades 6-12