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In the Conservation of Elastic Potential Energy Inquiry Lab Kit for AP® Physics 1, explore the conversion of kinetic energy into gravitational potential energy using spheres and inclined planes.

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AP Physics 1, Big Idea 5, Investigation 7

Runaway trucks rely on the conversion of kinetic energy to gravitational potential energy to stop when they veer onto ramps on the sides of expressways. This lab explores that very principle on a smaller scale with spring-loaded carts and inclined planes. This lab begins with an introductory activity in which students propel a spring-loaded cart up an inclined plane. As they perform the introductory activity, students will discover the effects (if any) of the inclined plane’s angle and cart’s mass on its travel distance up the inclined plane. The guided-inquiry activity challenges students to quantify the amount of energy lost by the cart due to friction and propel the cart up the inclined plane a specific distance. An additional inquiry activity is also presented, in which students elevate one end of an air track and measure a glider’s travel distance and speed following propulsion with a rubber band. 

Complete for 24 students working in groups of four. All materials are reusable.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Planning and carrying out investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Using mathematics and computational thinking
Constructing explanations and designing solutions

Disciplinary Core Ideas

HS-PS3.A: Definitions of Energy
HS-PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and effect
Scale, proportion, and quantity
Energy and matter

Performance Expectations

HS-PS3-1. Create a computational model to calculate the change in the 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 energy associated with the motion of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative position of particles (objects).
HS-PS3-3. Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.