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Roller Coaster Science: Using Smartphones to Measure g-Forces

written by
Rebecca Vieyra

This lesson blends physics, technology, and engineering as students use smartphone accelerometer apps to record data and analyze changes in g-Force on amusement park rides. The activity aims to help students overcome conceptual difficulties often associated with understanding centripetal force and "elevator-type" motion inherent in amusement park rides that lift and drop riders and move them along circular paths. The lesson goes beyond the more common Physics Day tasks to measure velocity and acceleration. It asks learners to analyze g-forces as a means to create quantitative force diagrams. This resource was inspired by a 2014 article in The Physics Teacher magazine, authored by Rebecca E. and Chrystian Vieyra. See Related Materials for a link to read the article at no cost.

Roller Coaster Science: Using Smartphones to Measure g-Forces by Rebecca Vieyra

Teacher's Guide: Roller Coaster Science by Rebecca Vieyra
Word Version: Print and Customize Your Lesson download 701kb .doc
Published: August 31, 2016
Released under a CC Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

Student Worksheet: Roller Coaster Science by Rebecca Vieyra
Printable problem set for distribution to students. download 684kb .doc
Published: August 31, 2016
Released under a CC Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions (HS-PS2)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (9-12)

Analyze data to support the claim that Newton's second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration. (HS-PS2-1)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)

The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)

Newton's second law accurately predicts changes in the motion of macroscopic objects. (9-12)

Relationship Between Energy and Forces (PS3.C)

When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Scale, Proportion, and Quantity (3-12)

Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth). (9-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)

When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined. (9-12)

Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. (9-12)

Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible. (9-12)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)

Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects. (9-12)

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (K-12)

Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to evaluating the validity and reliability of the claims, methods, and designs. (9-12)

Communicate scientific information (e.g., about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (including orally, graphically, textually, and mathematically). (9-12)

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)

Planning and carrying out investigations in 9-12 builds on K-8 experiences and progresses to include investigations that provide evidence for and test conceptual, mathematical, physical, and empirical models. (9-12)

Plan and conduct an investigation individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, and in the design: decide on types, how much, and accuracy of data needed to produce reliable measurements and consider limitations on the precision of the data (e.g., number of trials, cost, risk, time), and refine the design accordingly. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

Use mathematical representations of phenomena to describe explanations. (9-12)

NGSS Nature of Science Standards (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)

Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (K-12)

Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to evaluating the validity and reliability of the claims, methods, and designs. (9-12)

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)

Planning and carrying out investigations in 9-12 builds on K-8 experiences and progresses to include investigations that provide evidence for and test conceptual, mathematical, physical, and empirical models. (9-12)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)

Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)

R. Vieyra, Roller Coaster Science: Using Smartphones to Measure g-Forces, 2016, <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14180&DocID=4534>.

Vieyra, R. (2016). Roller Coaster Science: Using Smartphones to Measure g-Forces. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14180&DocID=4534

Vieyra, Rebecca. Roller Coaster Science: Using Smartphones to Measure g-Forces. 2016. 11 Aug. 2022 <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14180&DocID=4534>.

%0 Report %A Vieyra, Rebecca %D 2016 %T Roller Coaster Science: Using Smartphones to Measure g-Forces %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14180&DocID=4534

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