Monday, September 17, 2012

Physics Mad-Libs

In my Physics classes, we've just finished deriving the avg velocity equation and are wading into our first numerical word problems.  The freshmen, in particular, really need a fair amount of repetition to be taught how to cull variables out of word problems, how to figure out what equation to use, how to solve simple algebra problems, and then how to check their answers for reasonableness.  In the past, I've basically written up a number of problems along the lines of "a ball is rolling at 3 m/s for 9 seconds, how far does it go" and worked through them together on the document camera or in worksheets.  This year, in the spirit of gamification, I've been thinking about ways to make this tedious and teacher-driven day more engaging, and came up with the idea of Physics mad-libs.  Here's how it works - write up the shell of a problem, leaving blanks for nouns, verbs, and numerical values.  Poll the class for words / numbers to fill in the problem.  Trust me, they will be much more hysterical and interesting to the kids than anything you could possibly have dreamed up on your own.  As each numerical value is chosen, discuss the "reasonableness" of the value so the kids start to get a sense of how far, fast, and long SI units that they're not terribly familiar with are.  Have them solve it, again making sure to highlight whether or not the answer makes sense. 

For example:
A ________(noun) was __________(verb ending in -ing) because ____________ (reason).  If his/her/its velocity was _________(velocity including units) and he/she/it continued at this velocity for ___________(time including units), how far has it gone? 

And voila - they loved it.

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