Project-Based Learning: Teaching Newton’s Laws with Broomball

Middle schoolers at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force. If Newton’s laws of motion applied to the classroom as well as physical objects, what net force can educators use to guide their students into a constant velocity of learning? For Summit Learning schools, the answer is project-based learning

With Summit Learning, real-world projects pull students out of a state of textbook-and-lecture inertia. Playing with Forces, an 8th grade Integrated Science Project applying Newton’s laws of motion, is one of nearly 200 real-world projects embedded in the Summit Learning curriculum. Summit students spend 70 percent of class time in project-based learning, deeply immersed in these scenarios.

Last spring, we visited Chicago’s Lee Elementary to film eighth graders playing a game of Broomball to kick off the four-week unit.

Broomball challenges students to use a broom to roll a bowling ball through a course in the shortest time possible. The course includes a “no-touch” zone where students must let the ball roll without touching it, forcing them to plan for acceleration ahead of time. Before they play, students sketch predictions of how to properly accelerate, slow down, and maintain velocity.

After the race, students reflect on balanced and unbalanced forces of motion — How did they get the ball to speed up? To slow down? If they didn’t begin slowing the ball down soon enough before a turn, what happened? They also hypothesized how knowledge of the laws of motion could help a student succeed at the game of Broomball. At the end of the unit, students design their own physics-inspired game using their understanding of forces and motion.

8th grade science project newton's laws of motion
An overview of the 8th grade science project: Playing with Forces.

Nicole Mulcrone, 8th grade science teacher at Lee Elementary, said she previously taught laws of motion using marbles, but didn’t see the same enthusiasm in her students as she did with Broomball.

Projects that are real-world based help students “buy into what they are supposed to be learning,” says Kathleen Bourret, 8th grade language arts teacher at Lee.

Are you a Summit Learning teacher? Check out the Playing with Forces project in the Summit Learning Platform. Stay tuned on the blog as we continue to feature more project-based learning in action in our showcase school series.

About the author

Katie McNeil
Katie is a storyteller at Summit Public Schools, shining a spotlight on inspirational stories from the Summit Learning community. She started her career in journalism, covering K-12 education in the Bronx. Katie won a feature writing award from the Education Writers Association for her higher ed coverage in Utah. Before arriving at Summit, she earned a master's degree in educational technology from Teachers College, Columbia University and a New York State teaching certification.