August 17th, 2016

This activity elicits student thinking about potential energy and kinetic energy. Through the “four corners” activity, students are required to use evidence to support their argument.

Katherine Swinging

3.5 — Energy: Four Corners (Optional)

App Features

The Playground Physics app is not required for this lesson.

Expected Activity Time

  • Total Activity Time: 45 minutes
  • Introduction: 10 minutes
  • Activity: 25 minutes
  • Explain: 10 minutes
  • Total Extension time (optional): 45 minutes
  • Record a Video: 45 minutes

Materials and Prep

  • Worksheet: Energy: Four corners
  • Signs for room corners (Mark, Tania, Claire, Antonio)
  • Sample roller coaster videos (for example from YouTube)
  • An iPad with the Playground Physics app (optional)


Introduction: 10 minutes

  • Have students silently read the worksheet Energy: Four Corners and individually think through their responses to the scenario on the worksheet.
  • Have students commit to an answer and write down their explanation.

Activity (25 minutes)

  • Four Corners is an activity for prompting discussion about multiple-choice questions. In this activity, each corner of the room is designated with one of the answer options from the worksheet (Mark, Tania, Claire or Antonio). Start the activity by having each student move to the corner of the room that represents the answer that he/she thinks is correct.
  • Have students in each corner discuss internally why they have chosen that answer.
  • Have students choose a representative from their corner to explain to the class why they think their answer is right, with the objective of convincing others that they are correct. Remind students to use evidence to show why they believe the answer they are supporting is the best answer.
  • Throughout the debate, the students have the opportunity to switch corners to reflect the things they have considered and discussed over the course of the conversation. As the facilitator, let the students make their arguments for who they agree with; students should do most of the talking. Be wary of peer pressure and encourage students who are unsure not to be persuaded without a sufficiently compelling argument. This activity can last a long time, so set a time limit beforehand so that you have time that works for your class.
  • Listen to how students talk about force and note what misconceptions they have about it. Some of this will be evident by which corners the students chose.
  • Although there is one correct answer and three incorrect answers, let students argue and don’t guide them in the correct direction.

Discussion (10 minutes)

  • As a class, think through how the energy of a person riding a rollercoaster would change throughout the ride. When a rollercoaster cart is going up, it is gaining potential energy; when the cart is traveling down a hill, it is high in kinetic energy. In this case the best answer is Tania.
  • Have students go back to the worksheet and add to or edit what they were originally thinking to reflect what was learned in the activity.
  • Remember to check the Parking Lot of questions at the end of the class period. Remove any questions that have been answered and have students add any new questions that may have come up.


Record a Video (45 minutes)

  • Have students use the Playground Physics app to record a scene from a favorite movie that shows a physical activity that involves changes in kinetic and potential energy. Action movies work well, but remind students that they will need to find a spot where the filming of the movie follows the filming tips for the app (no panning or zooming in or out). Students will also need to take their best guess at heights and masses involved with the scene they film.
  • Have students annotate their videos with KE and PE stickers to indicate the change in energy present in
    the scene.

Answer Key

The best answer is Tania: When Selina’s speed is increasing, her KE is also increasing. Selina’s PE increases as she gets higher off the ground, maxing out at the top of the hills. Every time Selina goes down a hill her KE increases and her PE decreases.

Worksheet Previews

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 12.40.38 PM Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 12.40.47 PM

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Big Idea

The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to think through a scenario involving a change in potential and kinetic energy, and to practice talking about how kinetic and potential energy changes as motion changes. The “Four Corners” activity is designed to promote scientific reasoning and articulation of scientific thinking.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to use scientific reason to construct and argument and to explain data.

Standards Addressed



NGSS.MS-PS3-1: Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object.

NGSS.MS-PS3-2: Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system.

NGSS.MS-PS3-5: Construct, use and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.


Science & Technical Subjects, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6,7,8.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details and
well-structured event sequences.

Comprehension and Collaboration

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6,7,8.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own ideas clearly.


Standard 4: The Physical Setting

PS 4.1a: All energy transfers are governed by the law of conservation of energy.

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.

PS. 4.1e: Energy can be considered to be either kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion, or potential energy, which depends on relative position.


  • 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.