Cover Image from Jason Chin’s Gravity, 2014.
A quick one-shot lesson plan from a juvenile art and science session I ran as an intern. I wrote this up in detail for a Teaching and Learning class during my MLIS.
Chin, Jason. Gravity. 2014.
For Gravity Drop:
Ping pong balls, marbles, Styrofoam balls, pencils, paper clips, erasers, crumpled papers, rubber balls, tissues, feathers, blocks, coins, Matchbox cars, stuffed animals, or any other object kids might want to drop
Eggs, if the experiment is done outdoors
For Art Activity:
Paper or other canvas material
Lid from a cardboard box – around the same size as the paper/canvas
For Gravity Drop:
Print “What Falls Faster” worksheets, 1/ child
For Art Activity:
Lay a paper or other canvas material inside the lid of a cardboard box. There should not be much extra room. If there is, make sure the canvas is secured flat against the bottom of the box so that the marbles can roll over it. Having paint in squirt bottles makes it easier to add to each box quickly.
Have two volunteers each pick an object. Ask the class which object will fall faster – which will hit the ground first. Record the guesses (hypotheses). Have the group count down from 3, with the volunteers dropping their object at the count of 0. Have the group watch to see which hit first. Was it the object they expected? Repeat this activity several times in order for students to make observations and hypotheses several times using different object comparisons. Have students draw each object and record which one fell faster.
(Note: As gravity will affect all objects equally, any discrepancy will be based on air resistance and the quickness of the volunteer in dropping them. If it becomes an issue, have the volunteers trade objects as a control.)
If facilities permit, have a chair or other platform available for those that want to be higher. A summer variation might include water balloons filled with different amounts of water.
Read Gravity. Ask students what they noticed in the book’s illustrations. What sorts of objects fall to earth? What happens when objects have no gravity? Where might there be little or no gravity? Ask them to think about environments where gravity might act differently for next week.
Start the Art Activity. Note that depending on class size, it may be wise to prepare more than one painting set. If possible, children should do this art project in groups of 2-4, although older students with more coordination may be able to do it on their own, particularly with smaller canvases.
Have students each hold a side of the box. Place the marbles inside the box and have them move the marbles by lifting and lowering the sides of the box. Remind them to keep the marble inside the box, but have them observe how the rate of movement changes depending on the amount of difference between the high end and the low end. (This will help prepare them for the simple machines unit). Once they seem to have a grasp of this (or when you are at least reasonably sure the marbles will stay in the box), add a squirt or dollop of paint to one section of the canvas. Have the students try to roll the marble through the paint and then around the canvas. After a few minutes add a second color, then a third if time allows.
Tell the students that this is gravity in action! Remind them to think about examples of places that gravity isn’t as strong.
Clean up and dismiss the class.
What is gravity?
What things fall?
What happened to each of the objects as they fell?
Why do you think that happened?
Is there any relationship between size and speed? Between weight and speed? Between height and weight and speed?
Can you categorize the items in any way at all?
Adaptations for Older or Younger Groups:
Have students compare a flat piece of paper and a crumpled piece of paper in the discrepant activity. Begin to lead their thinking toward air resistance and mass, reminding them of the space occupied by air (and so the idea that air is “in the way” of gravity).
Begin to lead their thinking towards the idea of mass. Define Mass [How big an object is.] Clarify that objects with different masses will hit the ground at the same time if an outside force (like air resistance) does not affect them.
Students can skip the written explanation on the “What Falls Faster” worksheet. For PreK and K children, the teacher and other adults may be used in place of student volunteers for the drop experiment.
Last week wrapped up the weather unit about tornadoes, including the building of a tornado tube. Students may remember that air filled up the bottom bottle (air pressure), and that water falls because it is heavier than air. Quickly reminding students of these comparisons and observations at the beginning of the class session may be beneficial and put them in the right mindset
Next week will be about defying gravity – floating in the water, jumping up, and the International Space Station. Consider leaving the items used in today’s dropping experiment for use in a water tank next week so that students can compare what happens when an object is dropped through air and when it’s dropped in water. What other forces are at work when something is dropped in water? What lifts it up? The movement up, and the amount of force it takes to escape gravity, will be the focus of discussion, aided by the use of the storybook Mousetronaut by Astronaut Mark Kelly, and culminating in the launch of a pop-bottle rocket with the group.