Inclined to Conserve for PASPORT Systems

Type Category
Assessment Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity
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 lab activity, students use a PAScar Dynamics System and Data Studio software to investigate the conversion of gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy. Before beginning the experiment, students are asked to list and describe the different energies in the activity. The instructor should move analysis question 2 (Make a hypothesis, in words, relating kinetic and gravitational potential energy) to the Pre-Lab Questions section so that the students form their hypoethesis before conducting the experiment. As the activity is written, it seems the students were to form a hypothesis after the lab during the data analysis, and that isn't when a hypothesis is to be formed. The students should be forming a hypothesis that states the relationship between gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy. After conducting the experiment, the students are asked if their hypothesis was confirmed. If it was not, they are asked to modify it. There are also a series of post-lab questions that test the students' conceptual understanding of the concepts. This activity is probably best used later in the unit on energy, and the instructor should be prepared to lead a discussion about energy transfer as the cart rolls down the ramp.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 12
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-PS3-2 Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative positions of particles (objects)

Clarification Statement: Examples of phenomena at the macroscopic scale could include the conversion of kinetic energy to thermal energy, the energy stored due to position of an object above the earth, and the energy stored between two electrically-charged plates. Examples of models could include diagrams, drawings, descriptions, and computer simulations.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity strongly addresses the PE as the stated purpose of the lab is for the students to develop a relationship between kinetic and potential energy. The activity could be improved if it required students to develop a model instead of just using the Law of Conservation of Energy.

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
This activity nearly fully addresses the Practice. It could more fully address the Practice if it required students to develop models instead of just using one.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This activity fully addresses the DCI although the instructor will need to have a class discussion about energy being exchanged between systems.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The activity fully addresses the CCC because it even asks the students in post-lab questions to account for any "lost" energy as the cart rolls from the top of the track to the bottom. By asking this question, the activity forces the students to grapple with the idea that work done by friction can account for the difference in the initial and final energies.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity strongly aligns with the NGSS. It could more fully align with the NGSS if it required students to develop models instead of simply using a model to analyze and make sense of the data.

  • Instructional Supports: The activity only provides two hints for the instructor at the very end of the activity. The hints don't provide background knowledge; they only offer the teacher very limited help in dealing with minor issues involved in measurement.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This activity provides a pre-lab question that the instructor can use to judge student understanding before beginning the procedures. In addition, it also has a series of conclusion questions that require the students to expand on the results of their experiment and demonstrate that they fully understand the Law of Conservation of Energy. The instructor should provide background information about models and systems. Taken as a whole, the questions that this activity contains allow a teacher to assess student understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: While this activity certainly uses technology in the form of PASCO probes and software, it doesn't allow for much if any interaction. The lab procedures are of the cookbook variety and thus don't allow for the students to use the technology in new and novel ways.