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Becky McCoy

Lesson Title: Introduction to Circular Motion Timing: 60 minutes

Target Audience:
11th and 12th Grade Physics Class

Students Will Be Able To:
• Define Centripetal Force
• Describe Circular Motion with words and pictures
• Give examples about Circular Motion & Centripetal Force
• Use thought experiments to determine what would happen in a hypothetical

The Teacher Will Be Able To:

• Identify confusion about Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces
• Introduce students to Circular Motion concepts. The aim is not to give equations
or specific answers this lesson, but expose students to material.

Standards Assessed: New York State Standards

• Standard 4.5.1 Explain and predict different patterns of motion of objects (e.g.,
linear and uniform circular motion, velocity and acceleration, momentum and
o xi. Verify Newton’s Second Law of Circular Motion

Misconception(s) Addressed:
• Centrifugal force
• Objects moving in a circular motion will remain in that pattern
even if the centripetal force is removed

Prior Knowledge: Mechanics and Kinematics Units

Aim: Explore Circular Motion and Centripetal Force

Concept Map Vocabulary:

No concept map created for this unit.

Necessary Preparation:


• One marble for each group
• One Manila folder for each group
Becky McCoy

• String with rubber washer attached at the end

• Large beaker
• Rubber ball
• Computer with projection equipment

• Have pieces assembled for activity
• Have videos loaded before class
Becky McCoy

Lesson Plan

Aim: Explore Circular Motion and Centripetal Force

Physics Push-Up: Circular Motion Thought Experiments (5 minutes)

Students read description of Circular Motion demonstrations and use thought experiments to
discuss the viability of each with the person sitting next to them.
Before cleaning the floors in his apartment, Isaac Newton decides to try a Physics
experiment. He fills his bucket halfway with water. He then spins the bucket in a
vertical circle at a constant speed. When the bucket is over Mr. Newton’s head,
what will happen to the water?

After getting dressed for an evening of astronomical observations, Johannes

Kepler attempts to perform a Physics demonstration he had recently heard of. He
took a small coin and a metal coat hanger and assembled them so the coin
balanced on the bottom end of the hook of the coat hanger. Next, Kepler began to
swing the coat hanger in a circle; will the coin stay on the coat hanger?

Activity: Circular Motion Examples and Discussion (35 minutes)

• One marble for each group
• One Manila folder for each group
• String with rubber washer attached at the end
• Large beaker
• Rubber ball

• Draw the diagram below (A should be slightly curved).
o Ask students to predict which path the marble will take upon
exiting the curved folder and describe why.
• Have each group (or table) collect one folder and marble. They should
hold the folder horizontal and form it into a gentle curve, holding it against the
• One student should roll the marble towards the edge of the folder and
observe the pattern of the marble once it exits the folders’ curve (A, B, or C?).
See top view picture below.

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• Once students have been able to perform about 10 trials, ask students to
describe what they saw and why the marble continues to travel in a straight line
(Newton’s First Law).
o Ask questions such as, “Why does it need the folder to follow and
what happens when there’s no folder.”
• Take a string with a weight at the end (rubber washer works well) and
swing it above your head in a horizontal circle.
o Ask students what keeps the washer in a circular pattern (the
tension from the string).
• Draw the following picture on the board:



• Ask students what keeps the car moving along the curved road? First focus
on the car relative to the road and then the people relative to the road.
o Car to Road: The friction between the tires and the road keep the
car moving in a circular motion. A decrease in friction (due to rain, snow,
etc.) could cause the car to veer off the road. Sand and guardrails could
help to prevent serious accidents in these conditions.
o People to Road: The car door keeps the people from continuing in
a straight line. If the door were to open, the people would fall out since the
force of the turning car would not keep them moving in the circular
• Complete the circular road that was started above on the board. Face in the
direction of the board and point with your right hand in the direction of the car’s
natural velocity and with your left hand where the force is pulling (the center).
Repeat this at the top, the left, and the bottom of the “road”, showing that the
force is always pulling towards the center of the circle, hence Centripetal Force.
• Finally, place a ball in a large beaker. Hold the open end of the beaker and
spin around. Ask students to describe why the ball does not continue in a straight
line. Next, hold the bottom of the beaker and spin around, asking students why the
ball flies out of the beaker.
• Allow time for students to ask questions and have discussions.
Becky McCoy

Activity Summary: Video and Demonstration (10 minutes)

Show the video of the Hammer Throw
Olympic Event. Point out the circular motion and the ball’s movement in a straight line upon
NOTE: It would be ideal to show the Bill Nye segment on circular motion first, but it is
not available online at the moment. It had Bill Nye driving in circles with a dummy in the
passenger seat and when he opens the passenger side door, the dummy falls out.

At this point it is important to discuss the difference between rotation and revolution. Rotation is
a single object spinning around its own axis (a revolving door or the Earth). Revolution is one
object moving in a circular pattern around another (the hammer around the throwers head or the
Earth around the Sun).

Have students stand up and rotate around their own axis by spinning to face each side of the
room. Then have them revolve around their chair by walking around it twice. Select several
students to explain the difference and give examples of each.

Homework: Summaries and Predictions (5 minutes)

Students should write a one page summary of what they learned today including examples of
circular motion in their every day lives other than what was discussed in class.

Students should watch this video

v=XB8pUth5clE&feature=related and predict how the water stays in the bucket.

Exit Strategy:
As students leave, have them show you the difference between revolving (around you or a
friend) and rotating (spinning to face each side of the room).

Extension Activity:
Show students the bucket spinning video from the homework, discuss for a bit, and hint to them
that this activity will be done next class.

Formative student assessment through question and answer
Listening to student discussions
Student response to homework

Mike Shum

Notes & Adaptations: