Model Building Activity of Electrostatics

Concord Consortium
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Interactive Simulation
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



An interactive simulation in which students use a model of charged objects to explain how charges interact and construct an understanding of Coulomb's Law. It is concerned with comparing ions and neutral atoms. The model allows the user to investigate the relationships between sign of charge, magnitude of charge, and distance between ions. The model illustrates the operation of three types of electroscopes. Next it visually explores how a static charge can bend the path of a moving electron, and then graphically and numerically explores Coulomb's Law. Lastly a model that illustrates polarization of charge illustrates why a charged balloon is attracted to a neutral wall. The system allows students to enter their multiple choice and written answers throughout the activity and generate a report of their responses at the end even if they are not logged into the system.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-PS2-4 Use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on both quantitative and conceptual descriptions of gravitational and electric fields.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to systems with two objects.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students can download and work through the module. As they work through the model simulation they are prompted to describe their observations and answer multiple choice conceptual questions. While working through the simulation the students have the opportunity to investigate by changing the amount of charge and by changing the distance between the charges to see the effect of these changes on the magnitude of the electric force. The simulations start conceptually and build to quantitative investigations that show graphical relationships. Direct calculations of Coulomb's Law are not completed but graphical analysis of the relationships are examined by the student. At the conclusion of the activity the student can generate a report that includes all of their written responses to use for future reference or to submit for a grade from the teacher. This resource addresses Coulomb's Law but not Newton's Law of Gravitation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students can manipulate one or two aspects of each model presented to explore how the force between two charged objects is affected by the distance between the charges, the magnitude of the charges, and whether the charges are both positive, both negative, or one positive and one negative. Students are manipulating models in this activity, not developing them.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This idea is woven throughout each of the models presented to the students and is discussed after students have investigated interactions between charges. This only involves Coulomb's Law not gravitation.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The student is presented with a series of models of charged ions and electrons and their interactions throughout the module.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are using and analyzing models but not developing them in this module. The coverage of the performance expectation is thorough and student assessment is built into the activity.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are guided through authentic and real world scenarios and those scenarios are related to situations commonly experienced by students. Opportunities for differentiation are not included in the lesson.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Assessment is build into the resource in the form of short answer and multiple choice questions. These are easily delivered to the teacher after the student concludes the module.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The simulations work reliably and include clear instructions for their use. The simulations use a java plug-in in an internet browser.