Last Wednesday was a particularly snowy one in the Espanola Valley. Fortunately for us, schools were open, and we were able to host River Classroom at NMWC! Last time we met, we were measuring the velocity of the Rio Chama using our new favorite equation D=R*T. This week we wanted to include this useful math again to help students internalize it.
Students divided into groups and calculate the rate of a car after it rolled down a ramp. The ramp height was controlled by blocks, and students had to test at least three different heights. Students also had to perform three trials at each height.
We used stopwatches to measure how long it took the car to stop. We used a tape measure to find the distance the car traveled. From these numbers, we could calculate the rate of the car!
Some of the cars worked better than others- a few clearly did not have enough clearance to be used in this experiment! We had some devastating crashes.
After the experiment was complete, students learned how to graph their data. We discussed independent variables (the ramp height) and dependent variables (the rate of the car). We plotted one example as a group, and then students had to plot their own data. They found the average rate of the car over all three trials for each ramp height. They did a fantastic job!
For their reflections, students had to think about why the height of the ramp affects the speed of the car:
“Based on our experiment today the car became faster each time we put the ramp higher. This happened because of the gravitational energy. The gravitational energy made the car go faster and friction made it stop moving.”
“Based on our experiment today I think that when we increased the height of the ramp the car got faster because the higher the ramp got the more gravitational energy there was. I also think it got faster because there was more of a slant so that car had a lot of acceleration. And the third reason I think that is because there was less friction so the car could go faster.”
“Today based on our experiment I think that when the ramp increases height the car will go faster. I know my answer is true because when the ramp gets higher there is more gravitational energy. Also when there is more gravitational energy the car picks up more speed because it is a higher elevation. The car went faster because when the car has more speed the car takes longer to create enough friction to stop.”
Since it was so snowy, our River Classroom students also had to be good citizen scientists and measure our snowfall. This resulted in an impromptu lesson on the proper way to measure snow and how to find a representative location. We even reported our snow total (2.75 inches) to the National Weather Service on Twitter!
It’s been a great fall for our River Classroom, and we can’t wait to get our students back in the spring for even more science!
Happy Holidays from New Mexico Wildlife Center!