Discovering Motion (digital download)



The fingerprint guys are back! They’ve been hired to run a “time machine” that can spy on famous scientists who are making discoveries about the physics of motion. This is the most hands-on adventure they’ve done! In many cases, the reader is asked to do an activity where they can discover for themselves the same things that the scientists are discovering.

Target age group:  grades 7-10 (but can also be used for science-shy grades 11-12 who need a physics credit but don’t want to do a regular high school physics class)

Prerequisite: Students need to have enough math skills to be able to use simple formula like D=RT, plus multiplying and dividing fractions, and using decimals.  The amount of math in this book is far less than in standard physics programs. Graphs and formulas are explained as we go along.

Note about format:  If you used any of my other books, here is a heads-up about this one. The format is very different. Most of the activities are embedded right into the text, so you read a page, do an activity, read another page, do another activity, etc. You don’t read the whole chapter first then do the activities (like my other books). You literally discover motion as you go along, often discovering for yourself the same things that were discovered by the famous scientist you just read about.

Scientists you learn about in this book:  Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Descartes, da Vinci, Cavendish, Foucault

Other scientists that are briefly mentioned: Euclid, Eratosthenes, Blackburn, Hooke, Einstein, Marey, Stokes, Maxwell


TABLE OF CONTENTS: (Chapters are called “Adventures:)

If you’d like to preview some chapters, the ones that are highlighted are clickable and will take you a pdf file you can view or download.

Introduction:  Where we meet the fingerprints and get an explanation of what they will be doing and how their machine works.

Adventure 1: “Balancing with Archimedes” (center of mass/gravity, balancing, barycenter, pi, parabola)

Adventure 2: “Balancing, Lifting and Turning”  (the math of balancing, mechanical advantage, simple machines, types of levers, also includes “The Lever Rap” song)

Adventure 3: “Swinging with Galileo” (pendulums, inverse square law, resonance, harmonic oscillation)

Adventure 4: “Inertia with Newton”  (inertia, Newton’s first law, measuring in grams and newtons, inertial balances)

Adventure 5: “Slowing and stopping with da Vinci” (friction, coefficient of friction, free body diagrams)

Adventure 6: “Gravity with Galileo– and Newton and Einstein”  (Galileo’s famous ramp experiment, speed, velocity, acceleration, terminal velocity, Newton’s formula for universal gravitation, the Cavendish experiment, big G and little g, gravity explained by relativity, other ideas about gravity)

Adventure 7: “Calculating and colliding with Newton” (Newton’s second and third laws, F=ma, momentum, impulse, collisions)

Adventure 8: “Flies and cannonballs” (Descartes and the Cartesian grid, velocity-time graphs, parabolic motion, using d=1/2gt2.

Adventure 9: “Round and round we go” (circular motion, moment of inertia, angular momentum, cycloids, centripetal force)

Adventure 10: “Playing and working” (kinetic energy, potential energy, force, work, energy, joules and watts, also includes the “Roller Coaster Song” to review some of the formulas we’ve learned)


Each chapter has many activities, including hands-on labs and activities, solving math problems and watching supplemental videos. There are also some extra activities listed in the teacher’s section at the back of the full curriculum book.

The activities mostly use things you have around the house or can easily buy at any grocery or department store. The only specialized items I recommend are a few spring scales, a stopwatch, a bag of marbles, and two good quality meter sticks.