Lesson: Kinetic and Potential Energy of MotionContributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this lesson, students should be able to:
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Begin by showing the class three items: 1) an item of food (such as a bagel, banana or can of soda water), 2) a battery, and 3) you, standing on a stool or chair. Ask the class what these three things have in common. The answer is energy. The food contains chemical energy that is used by the body as fuel. The battery contains electrical energy (in the form of electrical, potential or stored energy), which can be used by a flashlight or a portable CD player. A person standing on a stool has potential energy (sometimes called gravitational potential energy) that could be used to crush a can, smash the banana, or really hurt the foot of someone standing under you. Do a dramatic demonstration of jumping down on the banana or an empty soda can. (Be careful! Banana peels are slippery!) Explain the ideas of potential energy and kinetic energy as two different kinds of mechanical energy. Give definitions of each and present the equations, carefully explaining each variable, as discussed in the next section,
PE = mass x g x height
Explain how energy can be converted from one form to another. This should be clear from the jumping demonstration. You had potential energy (stored energy) when standing on the stool, which completely changed into kinetic energy (energy of motion) right before you landed on the ground. As a side note, the ground absorbed your energy when you landed and turned it into heat.
Lesson Background & Concepts for Teachers (Return to Contents)
Whenever something moves, you can see the change in energy of that system. Energy can make things move or cause a change in the position or state of an object. Energy can be defined as the capacity for doing work. Work is done when a force moves an object over a given distance. The capacity for work, or energy, can come in many different forms. Examples of such forms are mechanical, electrical, chemical or nuclear energy.
This lesson introduces mechanical energy, the form of energy that is easiest to observe on a daily basis. All moving objects have mechanical energy. There are two types of mechanical energy: potential energy and kinetic energy. Potential energy is the energy that an object has because of its position and is measured in Joules (J). Potential energy can also be thought of as stored energy. Kinetic energy is the energy an object has because of its motion and is also measured in Joules (J). Due to the priciple of conservation of energy, energy can change its form (potential, kinetic, heat/thermal, electrical, light, sound, etc.) but it is never created or destroyed.
Within the context of mechanical energy, potential energy is a result of an object's position, mass and the acceleration of gravity. A book resting on the edge of a table has potential energy; if you were to nudge it off the edge, the book would fall. It is sometimes called gravitational potential energy (PE). It can be expressed mathematically as follows:
PE = mass x g x height or PE = weight x height
where PE is the potential energy, and g is the acceleration due to gravity. At sea level, g = 9.81 meters/sec2 or 32.2 feet/sec2. In the metric system, we would commonly use mass in kilograms or grams with the first equation. With English units it is common to use weight in pounds with the second equation.
Kinetic energy (KE) is energy of motion. Any object that is moving has kinetic energy. An example is a baseball that has been thrown. The kinetic energy depends on both mass and velocity and can be expressed mathematically as follows:
Here KE stands for kinetic energy. Note that a change in the velocity will have a much greater effect on the amount of kinetic energy because that term is squared. The total amount of mechanical energy in a system is the sum of both potential and kinetic energy, also measured in Joules (J).
Total Mechanical Energy = Potential Energy + Kinetic Energy
Engineers must understand both potential and kinetic energy. A simple example would be the design of a roller coaster — a project that involves both mechanical and civil engineers. At the beginning of the roller coaster, the cars must have enough potential energy to power them for the rest of the ride. This can be done by raising the cars to a great height. Then, the increased potential energy of the cars is converted into enough kinetic energy to keep them in motion for the length of the track. This is why roller coaters usually start with a big hill. As the cars start down the first hill, potential energy is changed into kinetic energy and the cars pick up speed. Engineers design the roller coaster to have enough energy to complete the course and to overcome the energy-draining effect of friction.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Associated Activities (Return to Contents)
Lesson Closure (Return to Contents)
Restate that both potential energy and kinetic energy are forms of mechanical energy. Potential energy is the energy of position and kinetic energy is the energy of motion. A ball that you hold in your hand has potential energy, while a ball that you throw has kinetic energy. These two forms of energy can be transformed back and forth. When you drop a ball, you demonstrate an example of potential energy changing into kinetic energy.
Explain that energy is an important engineering concept. Engineers need to understand the many different forms of energy so that they can design useful products. An electric pencil sharpener serves to illustrate the point. First, the designer needs to know the amount of kinetic energy the spinning blades need in order to successfully shave off the end of the pencil. Then, the designer must choose an appropriately-powered motor to supply the necessary energy. Finally, the designer must know the electrical energy requirements of the motor in order for the motor to properly do its assigned task.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.
Question/Answer: Ask the students and discuss as a class:
Lesson Summary Assessment
Group Brainstorm: Give groups of students each a ball (example, tennis ball). Remind them that energy can be converted from potential to kinetic and vice versa. Write a question on the board and have them brainstorm the answer in their groups. Have the students record their answers in their journals or on a sheet of paper and hand it in. Discuss the student groups' answers with the class.
Lesson Extension Activities (Return to Contents)
There is another form of potential energy, not related to height, which is called spring potential or elastic potential energy. In this case, energy is stored when you compress or elongate a spring. Have the students search the Internet or library for the equation of spring potential energy and explain what the variables in the equation represent. The answer is
PEspring = ½ k∙x2
where k is the spring constant measured in N/m (Newton/meters) and x is how far the spring is compressed or stretched measured in m (meters).
References (Return to Contents)
Argonne Transportation - Laser Glazing of Rails. September 29, 2003. Argonne National Laboratory, Transportation Technology R&D Center. October 15, 2003. http://www.anl.gov/index.html
Asimov, Isaac. The History of Physics. New York: Walker & Co., 1984.
Jones, Edwin R. and Richard L. Childers. Contemporary College Physics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1993.
Kahan, Peter. Science Explorer: Motion, Forces, and Energy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.
Luehmann, April. Give Me Energy. June 12, 2003. Science and Mathematics Initiative for Learning Enhancement, Illinois Institute of Technology. October 15, 2003. http://www.iit.edu/~smile/ph9407.html
Nave, C.R. HyperPhysics. 2000. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Georgia State University. October 15, 2003. hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/hframe.html
The Atoms Family - The Mummy's Tomb – Raceways. Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium. October 15, 2003. http://www.miamisci.org/af/sln/mummy/raceways.html
ContributorsBailey Jones, Matt Lundberg, Chris Yakacki, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise Carlson
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0226322. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder
Last Modified: April 18, 2014