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Upper El (Mr. D): Pendulums & Missions

This week, we explored energy transformation, had a fantastic field trip, and began a space-related research project.


On Monday, we continued into the topic of energy with the goal of understanding how it transforms from one kind to another. To do this, I hung a rock from the ceiling, attached by a string, to create a pendulum. We started with the rock held up high, giving it potential energy. Then, I released the rock, and we saw it gain speed and swing back and forth.

We approached this lesson with me asking a bunch of questions to the group as our pendulum swung. What kind of energy does the rock gain while it starts moving? Kinetic! Does the rock reach the same height when it comes back? After a couple more demonstrations, we concluded that it doesn't. So, if energy is transforming from one kind to another, where does the energy go? Why does the rock stop swinging?


We then discussed how friction steals some of our initial energy and transfers it to heat energy. The best way to feel this is to rub our hands together. Knowing this vital fact about energy is why I could confidently demonstrate holding the rock up to my chin and letting it go. It can't ever come back and hit me. After I did this, everyone wanted to have a go! Even knowing you're safe, it's still hard not to flinch a little : )

Tuesday's field trip to the Innovation Barn was A-ma-zing! So cool to watch this class answering questions about aquaponics and sustainability, impressing our hosts the whole way through. Not to mention showing off their culinary prowess in the kitchen! We had a blast and learned a lot!


On Thursday, I introduced a new website that we're going to use for some space research this year. It's a NASA site geared toward all things The Solar System. Students were given a list of questions to answer using only this website.

The point was two-fold. First, to learn some basic terminology. Why is it called The "Solar" System? What is a planet? A moon? The Kuiper Belt? Oort Cloud?

The second reason was to learn to navigate this website. There is a lot of information on this site, which can become overwhelming without some direction.

Once students finish this research, they are going to navigate to a tab that shows current, past, and future missions led by NASA. They will take their time reviewing this list and writing down the ones they find to be the most interesting, eventually selecting one.

That will be our first research project into the Solar System. Students will select a mission and become a "mission specialist." Then, they will create a presentation for the "press room" and prepare to field some questions. We're just getting into this, but by the end of next week, students will have picked the mission they will research.

I'm also looking forward to continuing our exploration of gravitational energy next week and our first engineering project along with it!

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