Ramp it up
Description of activity
Students investigate the distance a toy car will travel by changing the slope of a ramp.
The suggested time for this activity is approximately 1 hour.
Students discuss that a force can be defined as a push, a pull or a twist and that forces effect the movement of objects. Students investigate a range of factors that will affect the movement of objects.
Knowledge and understanding
- A variety of toy cars (those with pre-made ramps would be ideal)
- Lengths of cardboard, wood or plastic in order to make ramps
- Duct tape or masking tape to make strong ramps or to attach the ramp
- Materials to be used for either informal or formal measurement
Work, health and safety
Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.
Evidence of work for assessment purposes
- Labelled drawing or photo of the experimental set up
- A description of how the slope of the ramp was changed in the course of the experiment
- Table of results showing distances travelled by the car
STEM teaching and learning activities
- Students explore different ways of making a ramp that their toy car can travel along.
- Students explore ways to increase and decrease the slope of the ramp.
- Students predict the effect that the slope of the ramp will have on the distance travelled by the car.
- Students design and make a ramp that will enable them to carry out the investigation.
- Students determine how to measure the distance the car travels.
- Review the use of a table to record results. See Constructing and using tables.
- Students carry out the experiment, gather and record data.
- Students compare their data with that gathered by other groups and discuss the possible reasons for variation.
- Teacher leads a discussion to determine whether these variations are significant in terms of the reliability of the results.
Ramp – a surface connecting two different levels
Slope – the steepness or angle of the ramp
Data – facts and figures, collected during an investigation, which can be used to construct a graph and make conclusions
Gravity – a non-contact force that pulls objects towards the centre of the Earth
Key inquiry questions
Where should you set up the ramp?
The ramp should be set up in an area that is long enough to allow room for the car that rolls down the highest ramp to come to a stop on its own. There should be no obstacles in the way. The surface on which the car will travel should be the same all along its path.
How can you increase the slope of the ramp?
If you keep the length of the slope the same, the way to increase the slope is to increase the height/angle of the ramp. This can be done by placing blocks under one side of the ramp. Some students might recognise that they are actually making the shape of a triangle enclosed by the floor/base, the ramp and the height support. This may provide some discussion on different aspects of triangles.
From which point do you measure the distance that the car travels?
In order to compare results, the distance that the car travels must be measured from the same point. The easiest point to start the measurement is the point where the ramp meets the ground. Provided students use the same ramp for all trials, they could measure the distance from the top of the ramp to the point where the car stops.
What does changing the height of the ramp do?
By increasing the slope of the ramp (making it higher), the effect of the force of gravity in the direction of the slope is greater because the pull to the centre of the earth is more direct. One would expect that the steeper the ramp, the further the car will travel. Students will intuitively respond that the car is travelling faster. This is because the effect of the force drawing the car to the centre of the earth is greater.
Note: the force of gravity is the same at all points; it is the effect of the force that changes. The greater the effect of the gravitational force, the more easily the car will overcome the force of friction on the ramp. This means that the car will travel more quickly, build up speed and thus travel for a greater distance once it leaves the ramp.
How does friction affect the movement of the car?
The investigation will work best if the surfaces along which the car travels are smooth (to reduce the effect of friction). The most important consideration is that the surfaces along which the car travels are the same for each trial.
The following statement outlines some common preconceived ideas that many students hold, which are scientifically inaccurate and may impede student understanding.
The force of gravity changes as the slope of the ramp increases.
The force of gravity essentially remains the same no matter where on earth you are. The effects of the force of gravity may change, eg we weigh marginally less on the top of Mount Everest than on the equator.
Adjustments for the diversity of learnersDoes the mass of the car make a difference to the distance travelled by the car?
Design and make a roller coaster – YouTube video: How roller coasters work
Investigate where ramps are used in your community. Discuss why ramps are useful.
Is there a point where increasing the angle of the ramp will not increase, or even reduce, the distance travelled?
In this STEM activity, your students explored the concepts of forces and motion. These concepts will be further developed through all Stages of Technology and Science including Physics Stage 6. Students form the basis of an understanding of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion.
Students will have designed and carried out an investigation. Recording the results has provided practice in accurate measurement, making tables and recording data. Proficiency in these skills is vital for your students to analyse information and become critical thinkers.