Active learning can literally mean getting your students up and out of their seats and engaged in physical activity. When teaching energy, work and power, there’s no better way to drive home the concepts than to get the students outside the classroom to practice what they’ve learned. That’s why I assign them an activity where they have to determine how much power their bodies can generate.
At this point students have already learned the difference between mass and weight, the meaning of the term ‘work’ in physics, and that power expresses the amount of work done per second of time. They are now ready to go out and do some work to generate power. All they need is a stopwatch, a set of stairs, and a ruler or tape measure to determine the height of the stairs.
Next, we go into one of the stairwells at our school. Working in pairs, students take turns measuring the time it takes for them to go up one flight of stairs. I encourage students to go at their own pace (it is not a race) but for many it turns into a competition to see who can get up the stairs the fastest. Do you think the fastest person will generate the most power? Remember, power is the rate at which work is done.
For the students who try to get up the stairs the fastest, there will not be much difference in their times. But because the students’ masses vary significantly, those with the greatest mass will probably be able to generate more power. Comparing the results is a great time to figure out how fast the students with a lower mass would have to go up the stairs to be as powerful as the students with a higher mass.
Your students will have fun running up a set of stairs and calculating the amount of power they can generate. Visit our TpT shop to access our free How Powerful Are You? resource and see all of our Energy, Work and Power products. While you’re there, check out our Energy, Work and Power bundle with a comprehensive set of materials suitable for most 7th, 8th and 9th grade science curricula.