SPEED LIMITS:An Inquiry-Based Approach to Learning Dynamics

Section I - General Information
Section II - Supported Curricular Standards
Section III - Rationale Of Instructional Design
Section IV - Overview of Daily Lessons
Section V - Detailed Lesson Plans
Section VI - Support Resources

Section I - General Information

Grade Level: 11-12

Discipline: Physics

Curriculum: Kinematics

Overview of Unit

Student groups select a particular piece of roadway (1-3 blocks) in the local area and assess the practicality and appropriateness of the posted speed limit based on sound physical, numeric, and statistical arguments. These arguments are developed through various technology-intensive, in-class lab activities (experiments and simulations) and from online research. Each group will present the results of their inquiry in a formal presentation.

Guiding Question for Inquiry: Are Local Speed Limits Reasonable?

Time for Unit: 15 days


Section II - Supported Science Standards

Illinois (ISBE) Standards:
Standard Description
13.B.5d Analyze the costs, benefits, and effects of scientific and technological policies at the local, state, national, and global levels.
11.A.5a Formulate hypotheses referencing prior research and knowledge.
11.A.5b Design procedures to test the selected hypothesis.
11.A.5c Conduct systematic controlled experiments to test the selected hypothesis.
11.A.5d Apply statistical methods to make predictions and to test the accuracy of results.
11.A.5e Report, display, and defend the results of investigations to audiences that may include professionals and technical experts.
12.D.4a Explain and predict motions in inertial and accelerated reference frames.

Supported National Science (NSTA) Standards

Teaching Standard A: Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students.:

Teaching Standard B: Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning.

Teaching Standard C: Teachers of science engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning.

Teaching Standard D: Teachers of science design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science.

Teaching Standard E: Teachers of science develop communities of learners that reflect the intellectual rigor of scientific inquiry and the attitudes of social values conducive to science learning.

Assessment Standard A:  Assessments must be consistent with the decisions they are designed to inform.

Assessment Standard B: Achievement and opportunity to learn science must be assessed.

Content Standard A: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop:

Content Standard B: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop and understanding of …. motions and forces.

Content Standard F: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop and understanding of:


Section III - Rationale Of Instructional Design

Why Teach About Kinematics?

While physics is the study of interactions between matter and energy, most of these interactions take place in a moving or accelerating frame of reference. Kinematics is a system for describing how things move that is fundamental to observing any complex interaction. Further, kinematics introduces the idea of using rates to measure some quantity that changes over time.

Why Use A Structured Inquiry Approach?

Traditional methods of teaching kinematics are math intensive and tend to be dry, consisting of mathematical "story" problems, repetitive calculations, and mechanical operations (i.e. graphing by hand). Current state and national standards, along with common sense, suggest that learning is more effective when it is meaningful. The process of inquiry is a way to promote a meaningful learning experience. In this case students pick a problem of their own choosing (within the parameters of a study on speed limits) and use classroom experiences and discoveries to support their problem solving.

Further, this inquiry process yields a product (problem, solution, & presentation) that demonstrates conceptual understanding and applied scientific reasoning. This means of assessment captures an entire learning process and is thus more "authentic" than a comprehensive end-of-unit exam.


Section IV - Overview of Daily Lessons

Day 1: Introduce project, brainstorm issues & sub-questions.
Day 2: Motion graphing lab
Day 3: Motion graphing lab
Day 4: Discuss results of motion lab, groups develop research questions, plan & distribute tasks
Day 5: On-line Research Day
Day 6: Simulated Motion (Interactive Physics)
Day 7: Formulas & Computation I : Car Video Lab
Day 8: Formulas & Computations II: Reaction time & hang time.
Day 9: Reaction time & stopping distance.
Day 10: Finish stopping distance exercise. * Optional: Computer Traffic Modeling
Day 11: Work on Presentations
Day 12: Work on Presentations
Day 13: Group Presentations (May need another day)


Section V - Detailed Lesson Plans

Day One: Speed Limits

Objectives: The student will…


Areas for small group work

Classroom Learning:

1. Discuss automobile travel.

2. Automobile safety discussion,

With a partner, students should identify one safety feature/issue concerning automobile travel and why it might have been developed. This is then shared with the class.

3. Speed limits

At this point, give students the speed discussion handout and divide the class into groups of 4 to discuss the following:


The discussion sheets can be reviewed to give the instructor feedback about the existing knowledge of the students. The instructor should also be able to use these responses to identify groups that may need extra guidance in developing good questions to guide their inquiry project.

Day 2 & 3: Motion Graphing Lab

Objectives: The student will…


8 - 12 computer stations (computer, lab interface, ultrasonic motion detector)
Networked printer
Lab Handout: Describing Motion


1. Demonstrate proper operation of the computer equipment.

2. Assign groups of 4 students. Give each student a handout & role: recorder, computer operator, supervisor (reads instructions), and walker.

  1. Allow students to work through the activity packet. After two days of work, discuss graph shapes and packet questions with class.

The completed packets should provide the basis for evaluating the students preliminary understanding of motion graphing.

Day 4: Recap Motion Graphing Lab & Formalize Inquiry

Objectives: The student will…


Lab Handout: Describing Motion
Inquiry project description / rubric
Single computer with ultrasonic motion detector & projection unit.


1. Discuss the results of each graphing activity. Make sure students not specific properties of graphs such as up curves, down curves, straight lines, and horizontal lines. Have individual students demonstrate accelerated motion and graph matching for the class.

2. Recall activities from the first day - returning discussion sheets from that day if they were collected. Introduce task by connecting the speed limit discussion to the graphing lab (ask the question, how could a graph of motion help one determine a safe driving speed?). The graphing lab is one of several tools that will be applied to understanding speed limits

3. Break student into groups (similar to day one) of four to five. These groups should be given the specific tasks for the remainder of the day:


Learning during the graphing activity can be assessed from the packet while the initial inquiry requires informal assessment methods as the teacher must move from group to group surveying the planning steps. Care should be used by the instructor to guide students in developing answerable questions without dictating the questions to answer.

Day 5: On-line Research

Objectives: The student will…


Computer stations with Internet access (one per group)
Inquiry project description / rubric
Hotlist of traffic safety & speed limit sites
Handout: Web Site Analysis


1. Using the hotlist as a starting point, students should browse the sites provided. An analysis sheet should be filled out at each site.

2. After viewing some of the sites. Online searches should be encouraged.


Again, informal assessment methods are used as the teacher must move from group to group surveying the research. Analysis sheets can be collected to see how students value the sites selected for them.

Day 6: Simulated Motion

Objectives: The student will…

Comments: The process of observing numbers for constant and accelerated motion is mental preparation for the formulas that will be learned in the following days.


Computer stations with Interactive Physicsand Graphical Analysis and the Files Speed Racer 1, Speed Racer 2, Sunday Drive 3
Networked printer
Handout: Motion Graphing Inquiry


1. Give students the handout and allow them to work through the activities.


The response sheets can be collected and reviewed to check student understanding of accelerated and constant motion. If necessary, the instructor can discuss the results in class.

Day 7: Kinematics formulas I: Car Video Lab

Objectives: The student will…


Computer stations with Internet Access & QuickTime 4.0
Network or local access to the files blackcar.mov, cars.mov, brake.mov
Handout: Real-world motion


1. Begin with a discussion of how one might measure speed (velocity) to introduce the idea of velocity = distance/time.

2. Distinguish between situations that represent average velocity, like motion over a long trip with instantaneous velocityusing a speedometer.

3. Recall that acceleration is changing speed. Discuss how to measure acceleration. Present formula:

acceleration = (final velocity - initial velocity) / time.
4. Distribute handout and give students the chance to use these formulas by studying videos of cars in motion.


Motion analysis sheets can be collected to see how well students use the formulae and apply them within the context of video and moving cars.

Day 8: Formulas II: Hang & Reaction Time

Objectives: The student will…


12 or 6 inch rulers
masking tape
meter sticks
Handout: Hang & Reaction Time


1. Introduce new formulas: and , explaining that that they are based on the previous two and take into account such things as distance traveled when accelerating or starting with an initial speed. Optionally, the actual derivations can be shown.

2. Introduce the notion that the earth's gravity causes acceleration that is constant and has a value of 9.8 m/s/s. Also use a ball tossed in the air to demonstrate visually that the time a freely moving/falling object takes to go up is the same as the time it takes to fall.

3. Briefly explain the activities, distribute the handouts, and allow students to work on the activities.


Informal assessment will allow the teacher to check if procedures and calculations are being performed properly thus ensuring reasonable comparison values for tomorrow's activity.

Day 9 & 10: Reaction time & Stopping Distance

Objectives: The student will…


Computers with Internet access (one per group) and Graphical Analysis
Networked Printer
Links to:

Reaction Time Shockwave Applet
Stopping Distance Applet
Traffic Control Applet
Handout: Reaction Time & Stopping Distance
Spreadsheet for recording class reaction times


Netscape (or IE) 4.0 or better will be able to run these applets.  It is normal for Netscape to crash occasionally when running Java applets.


1. Give students the handout. Have a spreadsheet displayed in the class for students to share data from part I of the activity.

2. Allow students to work through the activities.  This is a sample of the stopping distance data & graph.

3. Before students begin work on day two, the instructor should discuss results from the previous day.

4. Students who finish early should be allowed to "play" with the traffic simulator. Give them the task of maximizing traffic flow and describing their solution.


Informal assessment will allow the teacher to view procedures are being performed correctly. Collecting completed activities will demonstrate student understanding of how stopping distance data will relate to the final project.

Day 11 & !2: Presentation preparation

Objectives: Student groups will…


Some computer stations with Internet & multimedia software
Artifacts gathered by students
VCR for student generated tapes (video capture board optional)


1. Students should use the time to prepare an Inquiry paper & presentation to fulfill the rubric requirements.


Rather than assess the proceedings of these days, the instructor should point the students to additional resources and counsel students about appropriate data collection & analysis.

Day 13 & 14: Student Presentations


Student groups will demonstrate their ability to apply learning about kinematics for scientific inquiry.


Computer with Internet access & projection unit


1. Student groups have 10-15 minutes to present their problem, methods, findings, and recommendations and to answer questions.


The instructor should use the rubric to assess each group's inquiry project.


Section VI  Resources

Pdf files require Acrobat reader which may be obtained from www.adobe.com .  Follow the link for Acrobat Reader.

Quicktime 4 plug-ins and viewers can be obtained at www.apple.com. Follow the link for quicktime. If you have Netscape 3.0 or better, the browser can self-update when you go to the site.