Wrecking Ball Science - Swinging Bowling Ball

SpanglerScienceTV YouTube channel
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.



This two and a half minute video shows the phenomenon of a bowling ball being swung as a pendulum. A person releases the ball in front of a volunteer’s face and the video shows what happens as the ball swings away and returns. The video can be used within an instructional sequence to help students understand that energy cannot be created or destroyed but that the way that it manifests itself in a system can change. The audio in the video provides an explanation of the phenomenon which would likely discourage students from developing their own ideas about the phenomenon. Therefore, the video should be shown without sound or the setup can be replicated in the classroom as a demonstration (with proper safety considerations).

The phenomenon can be used to prompt the following driving questions:   

  1. Why is the man in the video certain that the bowling ball won’t hit the woman’s face?
  2. In what ways is giving the bowling ball a push different than just releasing it and why is it different?
  3. What happens to the speed of the bowling ball as it goes back and forth?
  4. Why doesn’t the bowling ball make it all the way back to where it was released?


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-PS3-1 Create a computational model to calculate the change in the energy of one component in a system when the change in energy of the other component(s) and energy flows in and out of the system are known.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explaining the meaning of mathematical expressions used in the model.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to basic algebraic expressions or computations; to systems of two or three components; and to thermal energy, kinetic energy, and/or the energies in gravitational, magnetic, or electric fields.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Use of this phenomenon in an instructional sequence can help students develop an understanding of the disciplinary core idea element that “Energy cannot be created or destroyed—it only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.” This concept is one of the disciplinary core ideas for this performance expectation, and therefore this resource can be used to build towards the performance expectation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
By showing students the video with the sound turned off and pausing at 1:39, students are presented with a situation where they need to make a prediction. This provides an opportunity to ask the students to make a claim about the phenomenon shown in the video and to use scientific ideas about energy in in their explanation. Having students write down their explanation individually and then discuss them in small groups can help refine the explanations. Alternatively, if used later in the instructional sequence, the explanations could be collected by the teacher and used to evaluate students’ understanding of the core ideas and ability to construct an explanation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This phenomenon is most useful if students already have developed an understanding about gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy. Show the video with the sound turned off and pause it at 1:39. Then ask the students to write down a claim about what they think will happen and to use what they know about energy as evidence and reasoning to support their claim. Then restart the video to see if their assessment of the situation was correct. The phenomenon provides students an opportunity to explain that the reason the bowling ball can’t strike the face of the woman is that even though the amount of gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy is constantly changing, energy cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore since energy is never added to the system, the total energy of the system is never large enough for the ball to reach the woman’s face.

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
In addition to helping students understand that energy cannot be created or destroyed, this phenomenon provides an opportunity to help students refine their understanding of systems as described in this crosscutting concept element. The kinetic energy of the ball involves a system of the ball (and the rope the ball is hanging from) as those are the objects that are moving. The gravitational potential energy however, involves the system of the ball and the Earth, or alternatively the gravitational field of the ball-Earth system. If students have already been describing the systems used when analyzing energy transfer, this phenomenon can be used to check their ability to identify such systems.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: - none -

  • Instructional Supports: - none -

  • Monitoring Student Progress: - none -

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -