Bumper Ducks

Smithsonian Science Education Center
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.



In this game, students use their understanding of momentum, Newton’s 2nd and 3rd Law, and forces, to send rubber ducks through obstacles to a food source.  BumperDucks is an educational physical science game that will help teach players about what happens when two objects collide and how mass and force impact the acceleration of an object. “Lazy Logs” involves collisions where one object is moving, and the objects may have different masses.  “Frog Friends” involves forces of different strengths and directions acting on moving objects.  “Turtle Trouble” involves objects of varying masses colliding at different angles with varying amounts of force.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-PS2-2 Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on balanced (Newton’s First Law) and unbalanced forces in a system, qualitative comparisons of forces, mass and changes in motion (Newton’s Second Law), frame of reference, and specification of units.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to forces and changes in motion in one-dimension in an inertial reference frame and to change in one variable at a time. Assessment does not include the use of trigonometry.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity will lead up to this performance expectation, but is not suitable as a summative assessment. During the “Turtle Trouble” section of the game, the turtle and duck masses affect the amount of force needed to move or stop. This connection is made explicit for students in the tutorial narrations. The interactions of turtles, logs and ducks are controlled quantitatively, via Newton’s second law, f=ma. Students can also use the “sandbox” mode to design their own challenges, which could be a step toward planning investigations with real-life objects.

MS-PS2-1 Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.

Clarification Statement: Examples of practical problems could include the impact of collisions between two cars, between a car and stationary objects, and between a meteor and a space vehicle.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to vertical or horizontal interactions in one dimension.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
During the course of the game, students solve the “problem” of navigating a duck to a food source, using collisions and momentum. Three different sections of the game introduce ideas of inelastic and elastic collisions, the effect of different masses during a collision, and the effects of forces of different magnitudes during a collision. Although this game is not suitable as a summative assessment, it can be used formatively to see where students are with the ideas of collisions changing motion, or as a lesson, to allow students to visually learn the effects of different kinds of collisions.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
After the tutorial levels, students use or avoid provided “collision tools” (logs, frogs, and turtles) to design a process that will allow their duck to reach the food. There is also a “sandbox” application where students can design their own challenges. The teacher will need to point out to the students that this is what they are doing. The game itself does not tell players about, or use the language of, the design process. A teacher can highlight the idea of iterative practice and changing the design based on feedback (“what parts worked and what parts didn’t when I tried it”).

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 spelled out in the tutorial narration, and illustrated by the gameplay.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This idea is shown by the action of objects, and is implied but not clearly stated in the tutorial narration. The ducks’ motion is different depending on the relative mass of the duck and the object it collides with, and depending on the initial force applied. This can be a great introduction to ideas about momentum or about elastic vs. inelastic collisions. The “Frog Friends” section includes quantitative ideas of balanced and unbalanced forces that affect the ducks’ motions during collisions. The “Frog Friends” section also depicts 2-dimensional motions as a result of net force. The “Turtle Trouble” section incorporates these ideas and adds collisions where both objects may be of varying masses and experiencing different initial forces.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students are using the idea of cause and effect to predict the motion of their ducks when acted on by collisions of various forces and masses. They may need guidance to realize this. Some students will also need reminders to make those predictions before trying things, i.e. to think first about what they need to do to get their duck where they want it, rather than just randomly clicking. One way to get at this might be to project a level of the game onto a screen for the whole class to see, and have students write or share predictions about the best way to achieve the goal, then the teacher or a student can test the predictions on the “big screen”.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The game uses simulated phenomena which act in scientifically appropriate ways. The game incorporates ideas about collisions and the relationship between force, mass and acceleration. Because this is a game and not a lesson, ideas about designing solutions and about cause and effect are implicit in the game play but will need to be pointed out to students by the teacher.

  • Instructional Supports: The scenarios are cute and cartoony although they do act in accordance with scientific principles. They are likely to appeal more to the younger end of the middle school age range. Because this is a game, no supports are given for activating prior knowledge or for student sharing and clarifying of ideas. Teachers could differentiate by allowing low-level readers to turn on the voice narration, while on-grade-level readers may prefer the text narration.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This is a game and not a lesson, so it does not include methods for monitoring student progress. A teacher can check on which levels a student has attained during each section, to get a sense for the students’ intuitive understanding of the scientific concepts. Teachers could also have students discuss or write about “What did you try in Scenario X? Use scientific ideas to explain why that worked or did not work.”

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The game reacts to individuals’ input, but does not tailor levels based on students’ prior performance. The game is directly related to learning about how Newton’s Laws explain motion. The progression of levels with narration makes it easy for students to know what to do. The game appears to run with Java, which may be an issue for tablet users.