Acceleration Simulator

HMH School Publishers
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Interactive Simulation , Numerical/Computer Model
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.


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This is an online simulation in which spheres of varying masses are “hit” with varying amounts of force, and the resulting accelerations are displayed in table format.  Students are asked to come up with a rule to explain the relationship between mass, force and acceleration.  To see the instructions, find the word “instructions” (slightly buried in the data table itself) and mouse over it.

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 simulation allows students to collect evidence showing how acceleration changes as the force (just one force) on an object changes, and as the mass of that object changes. Students will already need to be familiar with the word “acceleration” as a change in motion. The data table format in which information is displayed is helpful for students to pick out patterns that they can use to derive a qualitative relationship between mass and acceleration, and between force and acceleration. The activity is useful as an introduction to the Performance Indicator and its concepts, not as a culminating activity. It should be followed in the classroom by other lessons in which more than one force is involved, and lessons in which students can design and run their own investigations.A teacher can also address the idea about “the sum of the forces” by using the phrase “net force”, e.g. pointing out that the ball at rest has a net force of zero.

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 are asked to construct an explanation (“write a rule”) about how mass, force and acceleration are related. The simulation can be used entirely to describe phenomena, or students can be asked to use partial data to predict “missing” information, as described in the Tips for the Practice of Analyzing and Interpreting data, above. The simulation could be accompanied by a real-life phenomenon, to clarify the jump from specific model to general explanation. The data provided is quantitative, though units of measurement are not provided. The underlying math seems to be a straightforward F=ma, so if a teacher wishes to incorporate units, it may be inferred that these are Newtons, kg, and m/s2 respectively. Students are most likely to describe the relationship as a = F/m, so if a teacher or curriculum presents Newton’s Second Law as F = m x a, the teacher will need to make sure it is clear to all students that the two expressions are in fact the same.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are asked to used the data from the completed chart to write a rule about how mass, force and acceleration are related. If done as a whole-class activity (projected onto a screen that all can see), students can request certain combinations of force and acceleration, and once a few points are filled in on the data table, students can be asked to analyze the data they have in order to make predictions about what the acceleration will be when certain other combinations are used. Predictions can be shared via whiteboard, worksheets, or discussion. Students can be asked to explain the reasoning behind their predictions. A teacher could ask students to graph the data to determine if the relationships are linear.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The simulation’s data table does not include a row for zero net force, but it’s quick enough for a teacher to ask the students what the ball does when no force is being applied from the launcher. The simulation and data table directly illustrate that larger forces create larger changes in motion, and that as force increases on a mass, the acceleration increases. To really emphasize the idea that to get the same acceleration with a larger mass, more force is needed, a teacher could ask students “are any of the filled-in accelerations the same? What do you notice about the conditions that make the same accelerations happen?”.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The students are asked to come up with a rule about the relationship between the variables. The patterns they observe in the data table are the foundation for that rule. Without other instructions, some students’ rules will likely be descriptions of the patterns they observe, e.g. “When the force is 1, the number on the bottom of the fraction of acceleration gets one bigger each time - 1/1, ½, ?, ¼, then ?”, while other students’ rules will use those patterns to come up with a mathematical rule, e.g. “The acceleration is the force divided by the mass”. Students can be encouraged to make predictions about what the acceleration will be with certain combinations of mass and force, and can be specifically reminded that they can make those predictions based either on a hypothesis about relationships, or by filling in a pattern they see in the existing data surrounding the “hole” in the chart.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Although this activity alone will not suffice to meet the Performance Indicator, the activity does include overt opportunities to incorporate a practice, disciplinary core idea, and cross cutting concept, in order to make sense of a phenomenon.

  • Instructional Supports: This activity uses a structured model of a familiar phenomenon (“hitting stuff”) to illustrate the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration. The model is scientifically accurate, and is grade-appropriate. Students are asked to use the model as evidence to express their ideas. The instructions do not overtly ask students to respond to feedback about their ideas, nor does the model provide more than one phenomenon. Since this is a student activity, no information about differentiation is provided. A teacher can incorporate different learning styles by using different language when describing the tak: asking for relationships between the variables, or asking for patterns detected. A teacher can also scaffold the “come up with a rule” task by asking students to come up with two rules, one about the relationship between mass and acceleration, and a separate one about the relationship between force and acceleration. A teacher could also provide a sentence stem or writing frame: “When the force on a mass increases…” A list of useful vocabulary, such as “force, acceleration, mass, increase, decrease”, can also give students guidance in their writing.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This is a stand-alone simulation for students and contains no information for teachers. Teachers can monitor progress by asking students for predictions either verbally or in writing, and by looking at the rules that students write. It is recommended that students be asked to explain the reasoning behind their rules.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The interactive activity is purposeful and directly related to learning the relationship between mass, force and acceleration. The activity is easy to use even with the minimal instructions provided in the box under the launcher (mouse over the word “Instructions” to play them). The activity does not individualize responses or student learning: while a student can choose forces and masses from the ones provided, the available choices and the outcomes of given combinations are always the same for everyone. Note that the red and the green on black can make those sections of the website difficult to detect for color-blind students.