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published by the Concord Consortium
supported by the National Science Foundation
This web-based graphing activity explores the similarities and differences between Velocity vs. Time and Position vs. Time graphs. It interactively accepts user inputs in creating "prediction graphs", then provides real-time animations of the process being analyzed. Learners will annotate graphs to explain changes in motion, respond to question sets, and analyze why the two types of graphs appear as they do. It is appropriate for secondary physical science courses, and may also be used for remediation in preparatory high school physics courses. Resource includes interactive activity, lesson plan, and assessment with answer key.

This item is part of the Concord Consortium, a nonprofit research and development organization dedicated to transforming education through technology. Users must register to access full functionality of all the tools available with SmartGraphs, which includes authoring tools for teachers wishing to customize SmartGraph content.

Please note that this resource requires Java.
Editor's Note: Physics education research shows that students often enter college courses with limited understanding of the meaning behind velocity vs. time graphs and position vs. time graphs. This engaging activity gives learners a challenge, then lets them construct meaning for themselves. SmartGraphs provides scaffolding while pushing students to learn from mistakes. The pedagogy is being classroom tested.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Motion in One Dimension
= Acceleration
= Position & Displacement
= Velocity
Education Practices
- Technology
= Multimedia
Mathematical Tools
- Algebra
Other Sciences
- Mathematics
- Middle School
- High School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Problem/Problem Set
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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Safety Warnings
Minimal Danger   No Safety Equipment Necessary  

Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access and
Limited free access
Access to web site is free. Users may register for additional free access to data capture, install probeware drivers, and store student work products.
© 2010 The Concord Consortium
1D motion, digital grapher, displacement, distance graphs, graph creator, graph sketcher, graph tool, motion, motion graph, motion graphing, motion models, one-dimensional motion, velocity graphs
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created April 25, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 14, 2016 by Lyle Barbato

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

2. The Nature of Mathematics

2A. Patterns and Relationships
  • 6-8: 2A/M2. Logical connections can be found between different parts of mathematics.
  • 9-12: 2A/H1. Mathematics is the study of quantities and shapes, the patterns and relationships between quantities or shapes, and operations on either quantities or shapes. Some of these relationships involve natural phenomena, while others deal with abstractions not tied to the physical world.

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.

9. The Mathematical World

9B. Symbolic Relationships
  • 3-5: 9B/E2. Tables and graphs can show how values of one quantity are related to values of another.
  • 6-8: 9B/M3. Graphs can show a variety of possible relationships between two variables. As one variable increases uniformly, the other may do one of the following: increase or decrease steadily, increase or decrease faster and faster, get closer and closer to some limiting value, reach some intermediate maximum or minimum, alternately increase and decrease, increase or decrease in steps, or do something different from any of these.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M2. Mathematical models can be displayed on a computer and then modified to see what happens.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)
  • Graphs and charts can be used to identify patterns in data. (6-8)
Cause and Effect (K-12)
  • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems. (6-8)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis. (6-8)
    • Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to identify linear and nonlinear relationships. (6-8)
    • Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena. (6-8)
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (6-8)
    • Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict phenomena. (6-8)
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 a model to predict and/or describe phenomena. (6-8)
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)
  • Mathematical and computational thinking at the 6–8 level builds on K–5 and progresses to identifying patterns in large data sets and using mathematical concepts to support explanations and arguments. (6-8)
    • Use mathematical representations to describe and/or support scientific conclusions and design solutions. (6-8)

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Standards for Mathematical Practice (K-12)

MP.4 Model with mathematics.

Functions (8)

Use functions to model relationships between quantities. (8)
  • 8.F.5 Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.

High School — Algebra (9-12)

Reasoning with Equations and Inequalities (9-12)
  • A-REI.10 Understand that the graph of an equation in two variables is the set of all its solutions plotted in the coordinate plane, often forming a curve (which could be a line).

High School — Functions (9-12)

Interpreting Functions (9-12)
  • F-IF.4 For a function that models a relationship between two quantities, interpret key features of graphs and tables in terms of the quantities, and sketch graphs showing key features given a verbal description of the relationship.?

High School — Statistics and Probability? (9-12)

Interpreting Categorical and Quantitative Data (9-12)
  • S-ID.7 Interpret the slope (rate of change) and the intercept (constant term) of a linear model in the context of the data.
Making Inferences and Justifying Conclusions (9-12)
  • S-IC.2 Decide if a specified model is consistent with results from a given data-generating process, e.g., using simulation.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Kinematics: The Physics of Motion
Unit Title: Velocity and Acceleration

This robust activity from Concord Consortium lets kids deeply explore the meaning behind the slopes of velocity/time and position/time graphs. It blends interactive graph sketching, data analysis, and digital Q&A as learners explore the motion of an animated car. It will help students understand why motion graphs appear as they do, rather than mimic the pathway of an object's motion.

Link to Unit:
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(The Concord Consortium, Concord, 2010), WWW Document, (https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity).
SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity, (The Concord Consortium, Concord, 2010), <https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity>.
APA Format
SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity. (2010). Retrieved January 19, 2017, from The Concord Consortium: https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity
Chicago Format
National Science Foundation. SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity. Concord: The Concord Consortium, 2010. https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity (accessed 19 January 2017).
MLA Format
SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity. Concord: The Concord Consortium, 2010. National Science Foundation. 19 Jan. 2017 <https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity}, Publisher = {The Concord Consortium}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {19 January 2017}, Year = {2010} }
Refer Export Format

%T SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity
%D 2010
%I The Concord Consortium
%C Concord
%U https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity
%O application/java

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D 2010
%T SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity
%I The Concord Consortium
%V 2017
%N 19 January 2017
%9 application/java
%U https://concord.org/stem-resources/describing-velocity

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Citation Source Information

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SmartGraphs: Describing Velocity:

Covers the Same Topic As The Physics Classroom: The Meaning of Shape for a v-t Graph

This high-quality interactive tutorial provides content support for K-8 teachers on the topic of Velocity vs. Time graphs.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By Conceptual Development About Motion and Force in Elementary and Middle School Students

This cost-free article describes results of research in Grades 4, 6, and 8 on student understanding of motion. Findings suggest that students as young as Grade 6 can, with instruction, change entrenched incorrect concepts to construct accurate ideas about force and motion.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic As Tutorials in Physics Sense-Making: Catching Mistakes: The Case of Motion Graphs

This is a microcomputer-based motion lab developed for cooperative learning groups. Students collaborate to predict shape of motion graphs, then analyze their own misconceptions.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Part Of Concord Consortium: SmartGraphs

A link to the full collection of SmartGraph interactive activities.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic As The Physics Classroom: Describing Motion with Position vs. Time Graphs

A straightforward tutorial that provides content support for K-8 teachers on the meaning of shape for a Position vs. Time graph.

relation by Caroline Hall

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