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Newton's 2nd law: Inquiry approach


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Students act as colleagues of Isaac Newton. Students focus on how to design a procedure to test Newton's hypothesis and then communicate that idea to others. The emphasis is on the process rather than the actual results.

Tung, Cecilia


Physical Sciences

One to two class periods

Teaching tips:
This is a lab activity that is usually given to students with a predetermined procedure that they follow. In this version of the lesson, students must come up with their own procedures to verify Newton’s 2nd Law. As the emphasis here is on the process of science rather than the actual results, some students may not see this as "real" science. It is in fact a huge part of the scientific process carried on by real researchers. It is important for students to realize how much time can and should go into designing a good procedure.

Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.

  • Science is both a body of knowledge and the process for building that knowledge. (NOS5)

  • Science aims to build explanations of the natural world. (P3, P6)

  • Science focuses on natural phenomena and processes.

  • Science works only with testable ideas. (P2, P3, NOS2)

  • Scientists strive to test their ideas with evidence from the natural world; a hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing. (P3, P4, P6, P7, NOS2)

  • Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as new ideas surface and new evidence is discovered. (P4, P6, NOS3)

  • The process of science involves observation, exploration, testing, communication, and application.

  • Scientific observations can be made directly with our own senses or may be made indirectly through the use of tools.

  • Scientists test their ideas (hypotheses and theories) by figuring out what expectations are generated by an idea and making observations to find out whether those expectations are borne out. (P4, P6)

  • Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence. (P6, NOS2)

  • Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observational research, comparative research, and modeling) to collect data. (P2, P3, P4, NOS1)

  • Raw data must be analyzed and interpreted before we can tell whether a scientific idea is likely to be accurate or inaccurate. (P4, P5)

  • Scientists aim for their studies to be replicable.

  • Hypotheses are proposed explanations for a narrow set of phenomena. (P6)

  • Hypotheses are usually inspired and informed by previous research and/or observations. They are not guesses. (P6)

  • Scientists usually work collaboratively. (NOS7)

  • Scientists scrutinize each other's work through peer review and other processes. (P7, NOS5)

  • Scientists are creative. (NOS7)

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