Getting To The Core, Newton’s Third Law: Getting Past The Lyrical Recitation Of The Law, Getting Into The Force Of The Actions And Reactions

Scott Balay, Science, E.E. Waddell Language Academy

Curriculum Unit (pdf)


This unit is designed for middle school students in a modified block schedule. It will take two to three class periods (75 minutes) for the prep work, and the students will complete the project outside class. They will be designing a device to catch a 1,2, or 3-pound kettle weight and keep it from hitting the floor. This is a new project, and will need to be adapted for future years based upon this year’s outcomes.
The major goal of this unit is to share a new capstone project for the end of the Physics unit in seventh grade. I find that I am a more of a big picture type of teacher, and the students help with the inquiry process by working out finer details to help refine the project for later years. In the third and fifth grades, students are exposed to ideas of Newton’s Three Laws. They are supposed to be able to interpret graphs and explain motion, and how it changes. The goal of a middle school science teacher is to help their students understand how the forces are applied, velocity is related, and how they can apply the concepts to problems. Usually a middle school (early high school) class will do an egg-drop design, or perhaps a catapult project. When interviewed and pressed for the actual applications of the Newton’s laws, the students cannot really explain how the project demonstrates Newton’s laws. While students may be able to answer standardized test questions, they struggle with a real life application of Newton’s laws. The goal of this new project is to try and access more applied results that have more of a concrete meaning for the students.