Saving Humpty with Newton's 3rd Law
If you've ever taught middle school students you know how difficult it can be to capture their attention AND keep it long enough to teach them something. I mean, we are competing with the attention of their BFF's and their cute new crush, so we better have something up our sleeves if we are going to have a chance of helping them learn. I personally have never been a big fan of textbooks. Don't get me wrong, textbooks are great for building reading and vocabulary skills, but as a means of teaching.....BORING. In addition, textbooks seem to be outdated as soon as they are published, especially in the area of science. So, as I was contemplating how to introduce Newton's laws to my students in a fresh new way, it hit me. The classic egg drop experiment....and we'll call it "Save Humpty." Now, I know this has been done at the elementary level before, but I was determined to take this project and make it a middle school level experiment. First, I introduced Newton's 3rd law through an interactive Google slideshow that I created.
My students watched a video, wrote responses in the slides, illustrated the forces that would act on their egg, and planned a design that would protect their egg. Click here to see these interactive slides. Next, my students created their protective container for their egg and brought it to class for testing. I emailed the students a reminder the day before and told them that everyone who brought their materials would be able to test their eggs in class. Can I just say, I had 100% participation with this part! We took the eggs in their containers and then dropped them from out of a window on the second floor. It was so fun to see which designs were successful, especially since some of the designs were surprisingly good at absorbing shock. (My favorite was an egg submerged in a jar of peanut butter.)
After examining our eggs and the damage done, the students worked through their interactive slides and calculated the force applied on their egg. We found the masses of our eggs and containers before we started. Then we calculated the velocity/acceleration of our eggs in order to find force. As soon as my students made their calculations they wanted to compare their forces and it was like one of those light-bulb moments....the students whose containers added more mass had a faster acceleration...and therefore, hit the ground with more force.
It was such a memorable way for students to visualize how force, mass, and acceleration relate to one another! In summation, Newton's third law saved some Humpty Dumpty's but more importantly, my students now have a memory to attach to this scientific topic.