Bowling Ball Inertia and Motion Lab


This classroom lab activity lets students kinesthetically experience first-hand the insights that Galileo had concerning objects moving in a straight-line and the property of inertia, which leads directly to Newton’s First Law of Motion.



The students will complete a pre-lab section where they will need to draw in force arrows on a free-body diagram and describe the effect on the bowling ball in one sentence. This will help students familiarize themselves with the underlying concepts they will be exploring.
The students will then take a broom and push a bowling ball around a preestablished course in the classroom—around desks and other obstacles in a race to see who has the fastest time. Using the broom, they will be applying forces to accelerate, decelerate, and turn the bowling ball. There should also be “no touch” zones throughout the course, where students cannot apply a force to the bowling ball, letting Galileo’s finding that objects in a straight-line path continue to follow that path unless an external force acts upon it. Students will then write down their times on the front of the page in the yellow box.
Students will then complete the post lab section, which has them answer a few questions about their hands-on experience. Finally, they will then complete a couple of questions using Newton’s Second Law, F = ma, to calculate acceleration and force applied to a bowling ball.
The lab is designed for both middle school and high school science classes, such as general science, physical science, and physics. The lab will take a full class period to complete, roughly 50 minutes or so, depending on the number of students participating in the activity.
Materials needed for the lab include bowling ball, broom, masking tape for the course, calculator, and a stop watch.

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