The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Lesson Plan: Introduction to Newton’s Second Law of Motion

[7 min] Do Now

Review from 1st Law, introduce 2nd Law:

In which of these cases do we have balanced forces? Explain why.

  • A cat is moving with constant velocity towards his date.
  • A car is moving with constant acceleration to pick up more physics homework.
  • A cow is at rest, taking a nap.
  • An apple is hanging from a tree.

Share out and discuss. Bridge the transition between Newton’s First Law and the idea of net force into Newton’s Second Law.

[1 min] Making Clear the Objective

Objective: You will derive the relationship between force and acceleration from simulated experimental data.
Criteria for Success: Graphs of data will show proof of Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion.

[12 min] Simulation: Newton’s Second Law

We will be using the simulation of Newton’s 2nd Law located at:

Set: show horizontal force, show total force.
Turn friction off.
Turn on graphs for acceleration and velocity.

Use students to run simulation and call out the data for their classmates to record.

We will be using a simulation. For each trial, record the following:

  • mass of the object
  • force applied to the object
  • acceleration of the object

Run the simulation for the dog (25 kg) with three forces: 50 N, 100 N, 200 N. Ask the students to make a prediction before the last one. Make sure to reset the simulation and graphs before each trial.

Run the simulation  for the textbook (10 kg) with the same three forces.


[15 min] Graphing the Data

Turn and Talk:
What was the independent variable and why?
What was the dependent variable and why?
What was the main control variable and why?

What do we put on the y-axis? What do we put on the x-axis?
The independent variable of our experiment always goes on the x-axis (Force). The dependent variable of our experiment always goes on the y-axis (Acceleration).

Work with your partner:
Draw 2 graphs. Don’t forget units and labels!

  • Acceleration vs force variable for the dog
  • Acceleration vs force variable for textbook


[15 min] Analyzing the Data

We seem to have found a correlation between two variables, force and acceleration. Let’s see if we can define a relationship between them.

Find the slope of each graph and write it next to the plot.
Find the inverse of the slope for each graph and write it next to the plot.

Do we see any patterns? Does the slope look like a variable we recognize? How would I write the equation of this line?

a = 1/m F   →   F = m a

[2 min] Summarize Findings

Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion:
The acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the net force acting on the object. The acceleration will be in the same direction as the net force. The acceleration is resisted by the mass of the object.

F = m a

Estimated Instructional Time: 52 min


[6 min] Exit Ticket

The catapult on an aircraft carrier can can accelerate a fighter jet from rest to 56 m/s in just 2.8 s. If the fighter jet has a mass of 13,000 kg, what is the force required?