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Using evidence-based reasoning to explore

relationships between energy and motion


long-standing energy lab in my department involves dropping bouncy balls and
measuring their rebound heights on successive bounces. The lab demonstrates a
situation in which the mechanical energy of a system is not conserved. Although
students enjoyed the lab, I wanted to deepen their thinking about energy, including the
connections to motion, with a new version of this old favorite.
A question we asked in the activity was: “Where does the ‘missing’ energy go?” Ad-
dressing this question allowed students to practice evidence-based reasoning as called
for by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013; see p. 24). When
answering the question, students often expressed the misconception that air resistance
was the main culprit. 19
So, I reframed the lab around finding where the dissipated FIGURE 1
energy goes, focusing on how it could help students connect
energy to the motion of the bouncy ball. This article describes
the activity I now use in my 12th-grade physics courses. The
Sketch of the path of the bouncy ball.
revised lab takes roughly three 55-minute class periods.

Day 1: Introductory observations

To begin, students observe a bouncy ball dropped onto a table and
qualitatively discuss the apparent energy transformations. This
process, which takes about 10 minutes, allows students to gener-
ate a guiding question for the activity and to make some initial
connections between energy and the motion of the bouncy ball.
After watching the ball bounce a few times, students notice
that it rebounds to a lower height each time. This leads to a
discussion of the energy transformations during the ball’s mo-
tion. The tabletop is defined as the zero height, as h=0, and the
system is defined as Earth and the bouncy ball. At this point,
students can identify that the bouncy ball must have gravita-
tional potential energy at the top of each bounce and kinetic
energy right before and after it hits the surface of the table. But explore more deeply the connections between motion and en-
the bounce height keeps getting lower, so energy must be dissi- ergy. The process takes about 30 minutes.
pated somewhere along the ball’s path. This raises the question In a brief whole-class discussion, students sketch the bouncy
of where the energy is going, and two main competing explana- ball’s path and select points along it most critical to describing
tions typically emerge: the energy transformations (Figure 1). Most classes select points
right before the bouncy ball is dropped (1), right before the ball
1. The bouncy ball experiences enough air resistance to dis-
first hits the table (2), right after the first impact (3), and at the
sipate its mechanical energy as it
rises and falls through the air.
2. Most of the mechanical energy is
dissipated when the bouncy ball
hits the table or other surface.
Sample energy bar charts.
These bar charts are typical of student work. KE indicates kinetic energy; Ug
Students then must determine indicates gravitational potential energy, and Ediss indicates dissipated energy,
which explanation better describes the usually in the form of heat.
behavior of the bouncy ball or whether
another alternative, such as a combina-
tion of the two proposed explanations,
is needed. While mechanical energy is
typically dissipated as heat, the result-
ing temperature changes are often dif-
ficult to measure, so students must fo-
cus on more accessible evidence of the
energy transformations—such as the
bouncy ball’s motion—to evaluate
the explanations.

What evidence will be useful?

Students find it challenging to iden-
tify relevant evidence when making a
scientific claim (McNeill and Krajcik
2008), so they should consider what
kinds of evidence will help them an-
swer the question. To do so, they will

20 JANUARY 2018

greatest height of the first bounce (4). FIGURE 3

Students then work in lab groups
to sketch two sets of energy bar charts
for the selected points (Figure 2). For
Sample motion graphs.
each set, students assume one of the
competing explanations is completely
true. In the bar charts, each block
represents one unit of energy, and the
blocks are distributed among kinetic
energy (KE), gravitational potential
energy (Ug), and dissipated energy
(Ediss), which usually appears as heat.
At this point, students only need a
qualitative description of the energy,
so the specific amount of energy each
block represents and the number of
blocks students use are irrelevant as
long as the total number is constant,
and the appropriate forms of energy
are indicated at each point.
Next, students need to connect their
bar charts to quantities that can be
measured in the lab and weigh the con-
sequences of each competing explana-
tion on those measureable quantities.
With this, students begin connecting energy transformations graph (Figure 3, top right) is symmetrical for each bounce. Stu-
to the bouncy ball’s motion. The student groups each complete dents then contrast their two sets of representations to identify
two sets of graphs of this motion (Figure 3). A set comprises potential sources of evidence from the motion graph (Figure 3)
a position-vs.-time graph and a velocity-vs.-time graph. The that will help them determine which explanation more accu-
groups complete a set of graphs for each of the two proposed rately describes the bouncy ball’s motion.
Students also explain their reasoning
for each set of graphs (Figure 4), using FIGURE 4
acceleration to link their reasoning to the
graphs. If air resistance is dissipating en- Sample reasoning for motion graphs.
ergy, the ball will have a greater accelera-
tion when rising than when falling. Since
acceleration is the slope of velocity vs. time,
the corresponding graph (Figure 3, bot-
tom left) shows a steeper slope when the
ball is rising than when falling. Since the
slope of a position vs. time gives an object’s
velocity, the corresponding graph (Figure
3, top left) curves more steeply when the
bouncy ball is rising than when falling.
This shows the velocity changes more rap-
idly while the bouncy ball is rising, again
indicating a higher acceleration.
In contrast, for the graphs where
the impact dissipates energy (Figure 3,
right), the ball should have a constant
acceleration, so the velocity vs. time
graph (Figure 3, bottom right) has a
constant slope and the position vs. time 21
The teacher should circulate have prior experience with
among the lab groups and may video analysis, there is almost
need to address misconceptions
with individual students, help
Sample position-vs.-time graph. no formal instruction, allow-
ing the teacher to circulate
them identify what constitutes This graph, generated by a student using the video to coach groups individually.
sufficient evidence, and refo- analysis features in Vernier Logger Pro, is typical of the This is especially important
cus their attention on the cen- results for this lab. as students begin to construct
tral question, asking additional their argument.
questions to reveal gaps in their Students load their vid-
plan. For example, many groups eos into video analysis soft-
plan to simply measure the ware and track the motion
bouncy ball’s initial height and of the bouncy ball, produc-
the height of the first bounce. ing graphs of the bouncy
Asking students how the com- ball’s position vs. time and
peting explanations predict that the bouncy ball’s velocity
the rebound height will be lower vs. time, similar to those in
on successive bounces can lead Figures 5 and 6. (These fig-
students to see the need for ad- ures were generated in Ver-
ditional measurements. nier Logger Pro, but similar
graphs could be produced
Collecting evidence using Tracker or Vernier
Motion detectors, photogates, Video Physics.)
and even metersticks and stop- By reviewing the predict-
watches can be used to collect data for this activity, but stu- ed representations of the bouncy ball’s motion they produced on
dents have had the best results using video analysis. Groups day 1 and collecting quantitative data from the video analysis
use a smartphone or tablet to record video, capturing the results, students decide which proposed explanation best fits the
entire path of the bouncy ball and including a meterstick data. Students’ work from the previous day to identify potential
or other reference in the frame. (Cameras or mobile devices evidence should guide the quantitative data they collect; ideally,
should be supplied to groups that do not have their own.) groups will know what data they will need before they begin
Students often choose to record in slow motion, which can the video analysis.
lead to more accurate results, but the bouncy ball may be- Each group then summarizes their argument in favor of an
come blurry in the video; the blurring can be reduced by explanation on a 2’-by-3’ whiteboard, using the claim-evidence-
recording in bright light, such as the light from an overhead reasoning framework (McNeill and Krajcik 2008). For the claim,
projector. Students should re- groups state which of the ex-
cord several videos, ideally on planations best predicts the
different devices, to make sure FIGURE 6 behavior of the bouncy ball.
they have at least one good For the evidence, groups refer
recording for analysis. It typi- Sample velocity-vs.-time graph. to the video analysis results
cally takes 10 minutes or so for that support the claim. For
This graph, generated by a student using the video
students to record the videos. the reasoning section, students
analysis features in Vernier Logger Pro, is typical of the
use their knowledge of energy
results for this lab.
to link their selected evidence
Day 2: Video analysis
to the explanation it supports
and interpretation (examples, Figure 7). Groups
During this portion of the activ- record their arguments on a
ity, students analyze their video whiteboard accompanied by
to produce position-vs.-time and sketches of graphs or other
velocity-vs.-time graphs of the diagrams as needed.
bouncy ball. They then use these This allows for natural
graphs to collect the evidence differentiation, as groups
they identified on the previous select an approach that
day and begin constructing an plays to their strengths.
argument. This typically takes For example, the students
a full class period. If students in Group B (Figure 7)

22 JANUARY 2018


Sample claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) statements.

These are strong examples of initial arguments generated on day 2 of the lesson. The final versions submitted individually
were expected to include multiple lines of evidence.


Claim: The bouncy ball–Earth system loses most energy when the bouncy ball hits the table.

Evidence: The velocity-vs.-time graph makes parallel lines whenever the bouncy ball is in the air. We found the slope of the
parallel lines and got an average of –10.09 m/s/s, which is close to the value of g.

Reasoning: In free fall, something will only accelerate at g if the air resistance is negligible. The average slope of the velocity-
vs.-time graph shows the bouncy ball accelerated at g, so air resistance must not have had much effect. If the air
resistance wasn’t dissipating energy, hitting the table must have.


Claim: The energy was dissipated when the bouncy ball hit the table.

Evidence: On the first bounce, the velocity right before the bouncy ball hits the table is 4.068 m/s, and the velocity right after
the bouncy ball hits the table is 3.415 m/s. On the second bounce, the velocity right before the bouncy ball hits the
table is 3.322 m/s, and the velocity right after the bouncy ball hits the table is 2.689 m/s.

Reasoning: We measured the height of the bouncy ball from the top of the table, so right before the bouncy ball hits it only
has kinetic energy. The bouncy ball also only has kinetic energy right after it hits the table. Both times the bouncy
ball hit the table, the speed was higher right before the bouncy ball hit the table than the speed right after it hit the
table. Since kinetic energy is related to v2, the bouncy ball must have lost energy when it hit the table. Also, v2 right
after the bouncy ball leaves the table the first time is very close to v2 right before it hits the table the second time,
so the kinetic energy must be the same at both points. Since the bouncy ball only travelled through the air between
those points, the ball must not have dissipated energy in the air.


Claim: The energy gets dissipated when the bouncy ball hits the table, not when it’s in the air.

Evidence: For every bounce, the position-vs.-time graph makes a parabola. On the first bounce, the equation for the parabola
is y = –5.125 m/s2 × t2 + 6.830 m/s × t – 1.532 m and the correlation is 0.9999. On the second bounce, the equation
for the parabola is y = –5.031 m/s2 × t2 + 13.98 m/s × t – 9.168 m and the correlation is 1.000. On the third bounce,
the equation for the parabola is y = –4.942 m/s2 × t2 + 19.97 m/s × t – 19.76 m and the correlation is 0.9999.

Reasoning: For the position-vs.-time graph to make a parabola, the motion on the way up has to match the motion on the
way down, so the velocity at each height is equal and opposite. That means the bouncy ball has the same kinetic
energy at those heights, which also means it has the same total energy at those heights.

preferred working with equations, so they presented a nu- with the whiteboards set up around the room and students leav-
merical argument. Group C, in contrast, preferred to think ing feedback on sticky notes.
graphically, so they based their argument on the shape of Students may find that approaches that seem different at
their position-vs.-time graph. first have important links. For example, Group A (Figure 7)
found the average slope of the velocity-vs.-time graph while the
Day 3: Whiteboard presentations bouncy ball is in the air to find the acceleration, while Group
Each group, using their whiteboard, gives a 2 to 3–minute class C used LoggerPro’s polynomial curve fit function, which finds
presentation, discussing the evidence they collected and how the equation for non-linear graphs, to get the equations for the
they connected the evidence to one of the competing explana- portions of the position-vs.-time graph while the bouncy ball
tions. Their classmates ask the group questions and provide is in the air. These approaches differ on the surface. However,
feedback. If the class is large, a gallery walk can be used instead, students should recognize that the coefficient to the t2 term on 23
Connecting to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013)
HS-PS3 Energy

Performance Expectations
The chart below makes one set of connections between the instruction outlined in this article and the NGSS. Other valid connections are likely;
however, space restrictions prevent us from listing all possibilities. The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in the article are just one step
toward reaching the performance expectations listed below.
HS-PS3-1. Create a computational model to calculate the change in energy of one component in a system when the change in energy of the other
component(s) and energy flows in and out of the system are known.
HS-PS3-2. Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of the energy
associated with the motions of the particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative position of particles (objects).


Science and Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models Students collect evidence to determine which of two proposed
Develop and use a model based on evidence to illustrate the models best describe the bouncy ball’s motion.
relationships between systems or between components of a system.

Engaging in Argument From Evidence Students use the claim-evidence-reasoning format to prepare
Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning behind currently both an oral and written argument in favor of one of the proposed
accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of explanations. During the whiteboard presentations, students have the
arguments. opportunity to critique each other’s arguments and to revise their own.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS3.A: Definition of Energy Students rely on their understanding that energy is conserved to
Energy is a quantitative property of a system that depends on the identify specific moments in the bouncy ball’s motion when energy is
motion and interactions of matter and radiation within that system. transferred out of the Earth-bouncy ball system.
That there is a single quantity called energy is due to the fact that a
system’s total energy is conserved, even as, within the system, energy
is continually transferred from one object to another and between its
various possible forms. (HS-PS3-1), (HS-PS3-2)

PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer Students use conservation of energy to represent the energy
Mathematical expressions, which quantify how the stored energy transformations of a bouncing ball, then use the changes in energy
in a system depends on its configuration (e.g., relative positions of storage to make predictions about the motion of the bouncy ball, such
charged particles, compression of a spring) and how kinetic energy as predicting the velocity at specific heights.
depends on mass and speed, allow the concept of conservation of
energy to be used to predict and describe system behavior.

Crosscutting Concept

Energy and Matter Students examine changes in the energy of the Earth–bouncy ball
Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms system to determine where the energy flows to.
of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

24 JANUARY 2018


This rubric is used to grade summative, individual CER statement.

3 2 1

Claim The claim is clear, accurate, and The claim is accurate but is The claim is inaccurate or very
complete. incomplete or not stated clearly. unclear and incomplete.

Evidence Multiple sources of evidence are The evidence is relevant and enough The evidence used is not relevant
used. The evidence is relevant and is to support the claim, but only one or is not enough to truly support the
enough to support the claim. source of evidence is used. claim.

Reasoning The reasoning clearly, accurately, The reasoning links most of the The reasoning is not accurate or
and thoroughly explains how all the evidence to the claim and is accurate does not link the evidence to the
evidence cited supports the claim. but is unclear in some places. claim.

Mechanics There are no spelling or grammatical There are a few spelling or grammati- There are many spelling and
errors. cal errors. grammatical errors.

a position-vs.-time graph is half the acceleration because that

graph will be described by Δy = 1/2at2 + v0t.
Throughout this activity, students engage in rich dialogue
Group A’s average slope is very close to twice the average
about the relationships between the bouncy ball’s motion and
value of Group C’s coefficient for the t2 term, so their results
the energy of the Earth–bouncy ball system, extending their un-
reinforce each other.
derstanding of these key concepts, which supports conceptual
understanding (Wells, Hestenes, and Swackhamer 1995). In ad-
Wrap-up and assessment dition, students grapple with what predictions come with each
After discussion, the class should agree that most of the dis- competing explanation, what makes convincing evidence in sci-
sipated energy was lost by the bouncy ball–Earth system dur- ence, and how to clearly communicate and support conclusions.
ing the bouncy ball’s impact with the table. This conclusion The lesson fosters a clearer understanding of science and deeper
is consistent with the assumption that air resistance is negli- skills in scientific reasoning. ■
gible in most cases. The teacher should address the common
misconception that energy is “used up” (Loverude 2005) by ON THE WEB
reinforcing that the energy has simply been dissipated by the Tennis ball heat dissipation video:
system as heat. I play a video recorded on an infrared camera Steel ball heat dissipation video:
of a tennis ball bouncing off the floor, which shows a clear
increase in the floor’s temperature (see “On the web”). I also REFERENCES
slam together two large steel bearings with a sheet of paper Loverude, M.E. 2005. Student understanding of gravitational potential
between them. The paper is charred at the point of impact, energy and the motion of bodies in a gravitational field. AIP Conference
providing additional evidence that energy was dissipated as Proceedings 790: 77.
heat (see “On the web”). McDermott, L.C. 1993. How we teach and how students learn: A mismatch?
As a summative assessment, each student writes an American Journal of Physics 61 (4): 295.
individual claim-evidence-reasoning statement based McNeill, K.L., and J. Krajcik. 2008. Inquiry and scientific explanations:
on the one produced by their lab group. The individ- Helping students use evidence and reasoning. In Science as inquiry in the
secondary setting, ed. J. Luft, R. Bell, and J. Gess-Newsome, 121–134.
ual writing should incorporate the feedback and cri-
Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
tiques their group received and should refer to addi-
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by
tional sources of evidence the student found compelling states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
during the class discussion. This individual claim-evidence- Wells, M., D. Hestenes, and G. Swackhamer. 1995. A modeling method for high
reasoning statement is graded using a rubric (Figure 8). school physics instruction. American Journal of Physics 63 (7): 606.

Marta R. Stoeckel ( is a science teacher at Tartan High School in Oakdale, Minnesota. 25