August 17th, 2016

In this lesson, students swing and write a description of what they observe about energy as they swing back and forth. This lesson is a starting place to help students connect to their own experiences and does not require the use of the Playground Physics app.

_Katherine and Nikki Swinging

3.1 — Energy: Swinging – Part I

App Features

The Playground Physics app is not used in this lesson.

Expected Activity Time

  • Total Activity Time: 45 minutes
  • Introduction: 15 minutes
  • Investigation: 15 minutes
  • Discussion: 15 minutes

Materials and Prep

  • Swings (or materials to create pendulums)
  • Worksheet: Energy: Swinging – Part I


Introduction: 15 minutes

  • Tell students that as a class you are going to start investigating the question “How can I describe the energy involved with swinging?” Write the question on the board and ask students to share their initial ideas to this question. Add their ideas to the board as they share them.
  • Provide students with the worksheet Energy: Swinging – Part 1. Have students write their own definitions for each of the four vocabulary words. Let students know that it is okay if they do not already know the definitions of the words. If they are not sure of the definition, encourage them to take a guess or make up a silly definition based on what the word sounds like.   

Investigation: 20 minutes

  • Take students to a playground with swings. If you do not have access to a playground with swings, this same investigation can be done by having students create and observe pendulums in the classroom. Allow students time to play on the swings and watch others swinging while thinking about the energy involved with swinging and how they would describe that energy.
  • Once students have had time to play and swing, have them write a description of the energy involved with swinging on the worksheet along with any questions that they have. Students should include the vocabulary words in their writing even if they don’t use them correctly. Encourage students to be creative in their writing. Learning about energy with Playground Physics is intended to be fun!

Discussion: 10 minutes

  • Allow students to share their ideas about the energy involved with swinging and how they described it with the class.
  • Write the words “Parking Lot” on a large piece of chart paper and post it at the front of the room. This is a place where students can post questions about their investigations and their wonderings in physics as the class moves through the lessons. Give each group of students a post-it note and have them write one of the questions they had about energy while swinging on the post-it. End the lesson by having each group share their question and place it in the Parking Lot. As students answer their questions that are in the Parking Lot, the questions can be removed. As the class moves through the lessons and new questions arise, they can be posted in the Parking Lot.
  • Teachers may want to collect and hold on to students’ worksheets, as they will revisit the writing they did in this lesson at the end of the unit.

Worksheet Previews

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 4.07.30 PM Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 4.07.53 PM

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Apps used
Duration: 40-60 mins
Prep: Easy

Big Idea

The purpose of this activity is to help students reflect on their lived experiences and prior ideas before diving into complex physics concepts. The activity uses a common playground activity — swinging — to help students begin thinking about speed, kinetic energy, potential energy and gravitational potential energy.

The writing component of this lesson is designed as a formative assessment after covering the concepts of speed, kinetic energy, potential energy and gravitational potential energy. Students should show an improvement in their description of these concepts at the end of  the unit.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to write a description of their observations of the energy involved with swinging.

Standards Addressed


Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns

Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS2.A: Forces and Motion

All positions of objects and the directions of forces and motions must be described in an arbitrarily chosen reference frame and arbitrarily chosen units of size. In order to share information with other people, these choices must also be shared.



Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments or technical processes.


Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.


Standard 4: The Physical Setting

PS. 5.1a: The motion of an object is always judged with respect to some other object or point. The idea of absolute motion or rest is misleading.

PS. 5.1b: The motion of an object can be described by its position, direction of motion and speed.

PS 4.1c: Potential energy is the energy an object possesses by virtue of its position or condition.

PS 4.1d: Kinetic energy is the energy an object possesses by virtue of its motion.


  • Speed is how fast an object is moving regardless of its direction.
  • Kinetic energy (KE) is the energy of an object in motion.
  • Potential energy (PE) is stored energy that an object has as a result of its vertical position.