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Physical Sciences K-8: Measurement and the Language of Physics Units

This topic contains a selection of units designed to help you to teach physics. In physics, using precise measurements and standard units is important in comparing physical quantities and understanding basic concepts.

  Frames of Reference (2)

Activities:

This animation takes the fear out of reference frames, and it's fun. All motion is relative to a frame of reference. This resource shows how the motion of a bouncing basketball looks different depending on whether the observer is standing still, walking in the same direction as the player, or walking in the opposite direction. It offers students nine scenarios (frames of reference), and they must answer questions from the observer's viewpoint.

Item Type: Interactive Animation
Level: Grades 5-9
Duration: 20 minutes

When introducing frames of reference, it helps if your students have a sense of scale. In this wonderful update of "Powers of 10", your students view images of the Milky Way at 10 million light years from Earth, then move through space at successive orders of magnitude until they reach an oak tree in Florida. After that, the applet decreases in progression down to molecular structure of one leaf, and on to chromatin, DNA, and subatomic particles.

Item Type: Image Set
Level: Grades 4-12
Duration: 15 minutes

  Physics Terminology (2)

Activities:

If you've never visited the award-winning Hyperphysics web site, put it on your list. It is a set of online tutorials that features concept maps laid out in a web-like fashion for easy navigation. This page describes units of measurement, unit conversions, dimensional analysis, and basic mechanical quantities. Some of the maps are "active graphics", which link to capsules of background information. Remarkably easy to use!

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

References and Collections:

As the name implies, this web page offers non-scientists a guide to SI. The materials are written so that a user with little prior experience with metrics can comprehend the measurements and how they are applied mathematically.  ***NOTE: This is a 1.5MB download.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

  Units of Measure (5)

Activities:

This item provides rules and "how-tos" for calculating both the relative and absolute uncertainty in a measurement.

Item Type: Tutorial
Level: Teacher Support

This resource is a digital tool for performing unit conversions with the extra feature of displaying cancellation of terms, helping students to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical processes involved.  Students can convert among 25 physical quantities, including units such as force, temperature, energy, and current.

Item Type: Mathematical Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

Information at the foundation of modern science and technology from the Physics Laboratory of NIST

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

This comprehesive guide on SI encompasses tables, charts, drawings, and a coherent set of text explanations of base units, derived units, common quantities, equivalencies, and prefixes.  It is written so that a user with no prior experience with metrics can comprehend the measurements and how they are applied mathematically.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

Teachers will find in-depth information on base units, derived units, and relationships among SI units in this free web site developed and maintained by NIST (the National Institute for Science and Technology). Don't miss the link to the "Digital Dutch" unit converter.  It is amazingly easy to use.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

  Applying Measurement in Physics (9)

Lesson Plans:

This 3-day inquiry-based lesson is a great way for students to discover what "accuracy" and "precision" mean in measurement. Fun hands-on activities include measuring objects using ancient "cubit" units and tossing foam darts to gather data. The lesson concludes as students work cooperatively to explore using significant figures in an Internet project.

Item Type: Cooperative Learning
Level: Grades 7-12
Duration: 3 class periods

This fun lesson lets students explore a real-life scenario as they compare volume for a cylinder (round hay bale) and a rectangular prism (box-shaped hay bale). They will use math to decide why one shape of hay bale is preferable economically to the other. But wait.....the round bales don't fit in a barn as well, which could affect the outcome of the problem!

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: 45 minutes

One of the best lessons we've found to help students get the connection between dimension and volume. They conduct an experiment to create two rectangular prisms and two cylinders, then determine which design holds the most popcorn. They will test ideas, graph outcomes, and present findings. Includes printable worksheets with answer keys.

Item Type: Experiment
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: 2 Class Periods

An exceptional resource collection on how to integrate "direct measurement videos". These high-speed short videos feature tools for easy analysis of various physical situations:  rulers, grids, frame-counters, and screen overlays for making precise measurements. Includes 9 teaching modules with lesson plans, assessments and answer keys, and pedagogical background. Does not require purchase or installation of video analysis software.

Item Type: Video Analysis Lessons
Level: Grades 8-12

Activities:

This cost-free web page allows teachers and learners to easily create and print graphs for use as visual communication tools.  With one click, the students may choose from five graph types: bar, line, area, pie, and X/Y.  Various patterns, colors, grids, and label choices are available to allow customization.

Item Type: Graph-Making Tool
Level: Grades 4-12

This is a really nice interactive simulation to give students virtual practice in using a micrometer, a device for doing ultra-precise measurement down to the level of 1 micrometer. Each time the "reset" button is pressed, a random-size object appears on screen. Students use sliders to move the object into place, perform the measurement, and check the accuracy of their reading.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 7-12
Duration: 30 minutes

This Java-based activity lets students manipulate a 3-D rectangular prism or triangular prism to explore surface area and volume. It's designed to help secondary students visualize the relationship of width, depth, and height in calculating and estimating volume/surface area.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 5-10
Duration: 30 minutes

Content Support For Teachers:

Accurate measurement is important in physical science, but no measurement is absolutely precise. If we assign any two people to measure the same object, there will always be a slight difference.....even if it's only a fraction of a centimeter. In physical science, this is called "uncertainty". This is a great resource to help teachers and students understand the role of error in measurement and how it can affect the results of an experiment.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Teacher Support

Student Tutorials:

Converting between units doesn't have to be frustrating to your students. This tutorial, part of an award-winning collection, is the best we found for demonstrating how to use unit cancellation to solve problems involving unit conversions.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

  For the New Teacher (2)

Activities:

This digital unit converter offers students more than the typical online conversion resource.  It allows conversion among 25 physical quantities, from more common applications (force, energy, current, voltage) to lesser-used conversions such as illuminance and magnetic flux.  It provides the additional feature of displaying cancellation of terms, helping beginners to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical processes involved.

Item Type: Mathematical Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

This resource is a comprehensive guide on SI for teachers and students.  It contains tables, charts, and text explanations of base units, derived units, equivalencies, common quantities, and prefixes.  To aid the learner in visualizing quantities, drawings of common multiples are provided for each of the base units.  The materials are written so that a user with no prior experience with metrics can comprehend the measurements and how they are applied mathematically.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: Teacher Support

  Teaching Tools (3)

Activities:

A helpful online unit converter for teachers and students.

Item Type: Mathematical Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

This cost-free web page allows teachers and learners to easily create and print graphs for use as visual communication tools.  With one click, the students may choose from five graph types: bar, line, area, pie, and X/Y.  Various patterns, colors, grids, and label choices are available to allow customization.

Item Type: Graph-Making Tool
Level: Grades 4-12

Assessment:

Here is a set of free assessment tools for grades 6-12 on topics that cover force and motion, waves, properties of matter, and chemistry.  Diagnoser assessments are aligned with NSES standards and Benchmarks, and include elicitation (warm-ups) and developmental lessons.  After completing the lesson, Diagnoser provides a computer program that poses questions and feedback for students via the internet.  The final step in the process is "Prescriptive Activities", designed to target specific problematic areas located by Diagnoser.

Item Type: Assessment Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

  Dimensional Analysis (1)

Student Tutorials:

Your students will need to understand how to cancel units before they can solve problems using dimensional analysis. Beginning with simple one-step conversions, it progresses to problems requiring multiple conversions. Students will like the informal writing style by the author, whose motto is "If I can do this stuff, then so can you!"

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

  Scale, Order of Magnitude, and Estimation (4)

Activities:

Students explore size estimation in 1, 2, and 3 dimensions. Multiple levels of difficulty allow for progressive skill improvement. CAUTION: This activity is addictive!

Item Type: Interactive Animation
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: One class period

An updated version of "Powers of 10".  View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from Earth, then move through space at successive orders of magnitude until you reach an oak tree in Florida. After than, move from a single leaf to the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA, and subatomic particles.

Item Type: Image Set
Level: Grades 4-12
Duration: 15 minutes

Interactively explore various specimens as they appear under a scanning electron microscope (SEM).  SEM can produce very high-resolution photos of details as small as 1-5 nanometers. Students can adjust the focus, brightness, and contrast, and choose from a cockroach, pollen grain, diatom, a gecko foot, a jellyfish, and more. Each successive image doubles the magnitude of the magnification.

Item Type: Images/Illustrations
Level: Grades 5-12
Duration: 30 minutes

This newer and beautifully designed version of Powers of 10 takes students on a "nano-journey" inside a carbon-based cell, an LED diode, and a laptop microchip. At each descending level, you can click on background information and additional Flash simulations. Kids can choose from 3 images and send "postcards" to friends about their journey. Fair warning:  this resource is so engaging, be prepared to spend at least an hour on your trip.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: One Class Period

  Assessments (2)

References and Collections:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the only nationally administered, continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas.  This website provides free access to the most recent assessment questions, organized by topic and level. Teachers can view an analysis of the results to see short-term and long-term trends in samples of students at ages 9, 13, or 17 years.

Item Type: Assessment Tool
Level: Grades K-12

Assessment:

Here is a set of free assessment tools for grades 6-12 on topics that cover force and motion, waves, properties of matter, and chemistry.  Diagnoser assessments are aligned with NSES standards and Benchmarks, and include elicitation (warm-ups) and developmental lessons.  After completing the lesson, Diagnoser provides a computer program that poses questions and feedback for students via the internet.  The final step in the process is "Prescriptive Activities", designed to target specific problematic areas located by Diagnoser.

Item Type: Assessment Tool
Level: Grades 6-12