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published by the WGBH Educational Foundation
content provider: the American Museum of Natural History
In this interactive activity from the American Museum of Natural History, students explore how the apparent motion of an object depends on the observer's frame of reference. An animation of a basketball player bouncing a ball shows how the perceived motion of the ball depends on your point of view. Students set their own pace as they view nine scenarios and respond to questions. Teachers will also find background information on the topic of reference frames and printable questions for classroom discussion.  Item is appropriate for grades 7-12.

PBS Learning Media provides thousands of classroom-ready, free digital resources including videos, games, audio clips, image sets, and lessons compiled by researchers and experienced teachers to promote the use of digital learning.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Editor's Note: See Related Materials for a 7-minute NOVA video on Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity that nicely supplements this animation.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Relative Motion
= Moving Reference Frames
General Physics
- Measurement/Units
- Reference Frames
- High School
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
© 2005 American Museum of Natural History and WGBH Educational Foundation, 2009
animation, inertial reference frame, interactive simulation, reference frames, simulation, special relativity
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created August 6, 2009 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
September 12, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
March 31, 2013

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • All positions of objects and the directions of forces and motions must be described in an arbitrarily chosen reference frame and arbitrarily chosen units of size. In order to share information with other people, these choices must also be shared. (6-8)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Developing and Using Models (K-12)
  • Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 and progresses to developing, using and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems. (6-8)
    • Develop and use a model to describe phenomena. (6-8)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 9-12: 4F/H2. All motion is relative to whatever frame of reference is chosen, for there is no motionless frame from which to judge all motion.

10. Historical Perspectives

10A. Displacing the Earth from the Center of the Universe
  • 6-8: 10A/M1. Because every object is moving relative to some other object, no object has a unique claim to be at rest. Therefore, the idea of absolute motion or rest is misleading.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Measurement and the Language of Physics
Unit Title: Frames of Reference

This animation takes the fear out of reference frames, and it's fun. All motion is relative to a frame of reference. This resource 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 students nine scenarios (frames of reference), and they must answer questions from the observer's viewpoint.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2005), WWW Document, (http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/).
PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference, (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2005), <http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/>.
APA Format
PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference. (2013, March 31). Retrieved August 16, 2018, from WGBH Educational Foundation: http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/
Chicago Format
American Museum of Natural History. PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, March 31, 2013. http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/ (accessed 16 August 2018).
MLA Format
PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2005. 31 Mar. 2013. American Museum of Natural History. 16 Aug. 2018 <http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2018}, Number = {16 August 2018}, Month = {March 31, 2013}, Year = {2005} }
Refer Export Format

%T PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference
%D March 31, 2013
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%C Boston
%U http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/
%O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D March 31, 2013
%T PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference
%I WGBH Educational Foundation
%V 2018
%N 16 August 2018
%8 March 31, 2013
%9 application/flash
%U http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/lsps07.sci.phys.fund.frameref/frames-of-reference/

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Citation Source Information

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PBS Learning Media: Frames of Reference:

Is Associated With NOVA: Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity

A 7-minute video for secondary education that provides an introductory look at Einstein's thought experiment on inertial reference frames in special relativity.

relation by Caroline Hall

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