30 Experiments with Activities and Sensors

Physics teachers tend to have physics on the brain - in some cases, even more so during winter break when there is time to think creatively. This winter, take some time to consider how mobile devices might supplement or enhance some of your traditional laboratory experiences, or maybe even allow you and your students to try some new things.

Having been a high school physics teacher myself, I tend to find that "one sentence labs" are the way to go once my students have a handle on experimental skills. The following are 30 prompts and questions that can be answered or at least investigated through experimentation using a mobile device. For more directed labs, I like to prompt my students to graphically and mathematically model the relationship between (TGAMMTRB) variable 1 and variable 2. Most teachers who use the Modeling Method of Instruction use some variation on this, as it encourages students to collect data, graphically analyze the relationships between variables, and then derive an algebraic expression from the data.

Although Physics Toolbox apps do not currently have data analysis features, the data from any of the apps can be easily exported as a comma separated value file and re-opened in software such as LoggerPro, Data Studio, Google Sheets, and Excel.

Derive lots of relationships to get many of those equations that "show up" in textbooks.

Perform any of the following experiments with your smartphone TGAMMTRB...

  1. Mass and acceleration using a modified Atwood's machine (Materials: low-friction cart and track, masses, string, plastic bag for suspending the smartphone) (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  2. Mass and net force using a modified Atwood's machine (Materials: same as above!) (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  3. Centripetal acceleration and tangential velocity during uniform circular motion. (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer).

  4. Magnetic field strength and distance from a magnet (Materials: small magnet and ruler) (Physics Toolbox Magnetometer or Suite)

  5. Light intensity and distance from the point source (Materials: LED or small flashlight and ruler) (Physics Toolbox Light Meter or Suite)

  6. Sound intensity and distance from the point source (Materials: additional phone or speaker for producing sound and ruler) (Physics Toolbox Sound Meter or Suite and Physics Toolbox Tone Generator)

  7. Pressure and depth below the surface of water (Materials: tub or container of water, ruler, waterproof case) (Physics Toolbox Barometer or Suite)

  8. Pressure and altitude above sea level (Materials: tall building or hill) (Physics Toolbox Barometer, Physics Toolbox GPS, or Suite)

  9. Length and period of a simple pendulum (Materials: string, small mass) (Physics Toolbox Proximeter or Suite)

  10. Mass and period of a spring (Materials: rubber bands) (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  11. Temperature and pressure of air of a constant volume (Materials: canning or jam jar) (Physics Toolbox Suite)

  12. Height and gait frequency for walking humans (Materials: meter stick) (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite) Lesson from TeachEngineering.

  13. Seismic vibration strength and distance from the "epicenter" of the shake.

Take part in an number of other experiences to apply those models or to enhance your conceptual understanding:

  1. What is the acceleration due to gravity near the surface of earth? (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite by the free-fall method, or Physics Toolbox Proximeter or Suite by the pendulum method)Lesson from MobileScience.

  2. Under what conditions do g-forces read "0" in all dimensions? (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  3. How does the normal force on my body change during an elevator ride? (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  4. What is the different in height traveled during an elevator ride? Hint: Take a double integral of the acceleration graph! (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  5. How quickly can you accelerate by spinning? (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite)

  6. How well do different materials decrease the force of impact between two objects? (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite).

  7. Where is the accelerometer located in my smartphone? (Physics Toolbox Accelerometer or Suite).

  8. Do my sun glasses actually block out UV light? (Physics Toolbox UV)

  9. How loud is my environment? Are my environmental noises dangerous to my sense of hearing? (Physics Toolbox Sound Meter or Suite)

  10. What happens when sounds of similar (or slightly different) frequency are played together? (Physics Toolbox Tone Generator)

  11. Which was does the earth's magnetic field point at my latitude and longitude?

  12. Where are the poles of a bar magnet? A horseshoe magnet? A spherical or irregular magnet? (Physics Toolbox Magnetometer or Suite)

  13. What kinds of common metals can be permanent magnets? (Physics Toolbox Magnetometer or Suite)

  14. How do astronomers detect exoplanets by eclipses? (Physics Toolbox Light Sensor or Suite)

  15. What do projected red, green, blue, magenta, cyan, and/or yellow colors of light look like when mixed in various combinations? (Physics Toolbox RGB or Suite)

  16. What do you predict that M&M's would look like under various monochromatic lights? (Physics Toolbox RGB or Suite)

  17. What is the height of any structure? Use simple triangulation or a barometer! (Physics Toolbox Orientation, Physics Toolbox Barometer, or Suite)

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