16 Sample Approaches
16. What are Three InquiryBased Approaches to Conducting Scientific Investigations Using Balls and Ramps?
How are the lessons and student guide sheets designed differently for the various levels of inquiry? As a resource for teachers, Douglas Llewellyn has developed the following detailed outlines as a guide for teachers to implement the Balls and Ramps investigations as structured inquiry, guided inquiry, and selfdirected inquiry. (Source: Douglas Llewellyn, Ontario Presenter Guide and Ontario Student Guide handout at STAO Conference 2015, Toronto, Ontario, November 12, 2015)
Objective
To explore the concept of motion energy and determine the effect of different variables on rolling objects
Background Information for the Teacher
In Balls and Ramps, the amount of potential energy given to the ball is determined by the height of the release point. When the ball or marble is released, its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy (the motion of the rolling object). However, a significant amount of kinetic energy is “absorbed” as the ball hits the floor surface, especially when working on a carpeted area. Students can also investigate how the mass of the ball (wooden balls with various diameters) or marble affects the distance it will travel across the floor, realizing that the friction between the rolling ball and the floor’s surface also affects the distance the ball travels.
Possible Student Prior Conceptions
When investigating the effect of the ramp’s angle, students may not realize that as the angle of the ramp increases, the release point (the height) of the ball should remain the same. Students may create a greater angle by increasing the number of blocks, thus also increasing the potential energy provided to the released ball.
Materials
 Assorted 2.5 cm (1") blocks  available in craft and hobby stores
 30 cm (12") grooved rulers
 Assorted sizes of marbles (1 cm/½", 2 cm/¾", 3 cm/1")
 Assorted balls (pingpong ball, super ball, rubber ball)
 Assorted wooden balls with different diameters
(1 cm/½", 2 cm/¾", 2.5 cm/1", 5 cm/2", 7.5 cm/3", & 10 cm/4")
 Assorted steel balls with different diameters (1 cm/½", 2 cm/¾", 2.5 cm/1")
 Assorted golf balls (regular golf ball, Wiffletype golf ball, hollow plastic golf ball)
 Measuring tapes
 Protractors
 Calculators (optional)
 15 cm (6") and 45 cm (18") grooved rulers (optional)
 Calipers for measuring the diameter of a marble or ball (optional)
 Triplebeam balances for measuring the mass of a marble or ball (optional)
 Science journals
Prior Setup and Arrangements
Materials for each station should be readily available in a clear plastic baggie or a cardboard shoe box.
Students Working in Groups
Students often dive into an investigation without spending the necessary time to completely understand or “noodle through” the question or problem being investigated. After all, for many youngsters, the best part of science is getting right into the materials. Encourage students to spend a considerable amount of time “gettingtoknow” the question or problem facing them. Be sure students recognize the nature of the question before proceeding into the handson portion of the activity. Spending more time analyzing the question (and later reflecting of the question and its results) will enable students not only to do inquiry more effectively, but to better articulate and “cometoknow” about the process of scientific inquiry.
As students work in mixed groups (by ability, gender, language proficiency, or status), be observant and mindful as to which students have access to the materials and which role each is playing during the activity. When groups are mixed by gender, for example two boys and two girls in a group, watch for the role which boys play versus the girls. Usually, boys tend to dominate the manipulative aspects of the investigation, leaving the observing and record keeping role to the girls. This is especially true when the boys outnumber girls in a group, say two boys and one girl in a group. Be sure each group member has equal access to the materials by distributing group roles and responsibilities equitably amongst the members.
With some cases, the teacher may decide to provide a hypothesis to test. With other cases, the teacher may want the students to formulate their own hypothesis. This will largely depend upon the experience level of the individuals within the group.
Students can also investigate how the length of the ramp, the surface of the flooring, the angle of the ramp, the diameter of the balls or marbles, the mass of the balls or marbles, the composition of the balls (glass, wood, or steel), or the release point on the ramp influence the distance the ball or marble will travel. It is especially important to know that many of the variables within this concept cannot be completely isolated. One variable may affect another. For example, as students vary the angle of the ramp (controlling for potential energy, releasing the ball from a height of one block), they also vary the length of the ramp. Also, as the angle increases, much of the kinetic energy from the ball is “absorbed” by the floor when the ball reaches the end of the ramp.
For each inquiry, the teacher may choose to add additional, unessential balls and marbles to the bag of materials. These will act as distracters, causing students to think critically about which materials are most appropriately needed to carry out the investigation and which are not. It may, however, trigger students to think all the materials in the bag need to be used, thus causing students to test more than one variable at a time. Deciding which materials are relevant in an investigation is an essential reasoning skill in inquirybased learning. Providing additional materials as distracters helps develop this fundamental skill. For students new to inquiry, you may want to provide only the necessary materials.
As students carry out their procedure, they may ask, “What is the correct (or reasonable) number of trials to take?” The answer varies. Many science teachers recommend an odd number of trials, such as 3 or 5, but certainly not 1 or 2. In the structured inquiry, 3 trials are taken in order to determine an average. Teachers may choose to have advanced students make 5 trials and then eliminate the highest and lowest recordings; and then report the range of the 3 trials and the mean of the 3 “middle” distances.
If students have competence using Excel software, a computergenerated data table and a graph may be required.
As a Structured Inquiry: Balls and Ramps Student Guide
Introduction
This investigation is designed as a structured inquiry where the problem/question and the procedure are provided, but collecting and organizing the results is left to you. This investigation provides a stepbystep procedure and the materials to complete each step. There are assorted balls and marbles in the bag of materials that will help you conduct this activity. At the end of the activity are several other questions you may choose to investigate.
Problem: How does the height of an inclined plane affect the distance a marble will travel?
Materials: One 30 cm or 12" ruler with groove
Five blocks (or books), each 2.5 cm or 1" high
One ball or marble
One measuring tape
Procedure:
 Place one end of the ruler on the edge of a block.
 Place the ball/marble in the ruler’s groove as far up the ruler as possible.
 Release the ball/marble.
 Using that observation, make a prediction as to how the height of an inclined plane will affect the distance the ball/marble travels. Record that statement on a separate sheet of paper.
For example: My prediction is  As the height of the ramp increases, the distance the ball/marble travels ______________________________.  Repeat steps 1 through 3 of the procedure for 3 separate trials. Using the measuring tape, measure the distance (in cm) the ball/marble travels for each trial.
 On your paper, design a data table to record and organize the results.
 Repeat the same procedure for 5 cm or 2 inches by placing a second block on top of the first. Place the ruler on the top of the second block so the height of the ruler is now at 5 cm or 2 inches. Release the ball/marble and record your results in the data table.
 Repeat the same procedure for 7.5 cm or 3 inches, 10 cm or 4 inches, and 12.5 cm or 5 inches and again, record your results in the data table.
 Calculate the average for each height. Show your work.
Conclusion:
Using the data collected, decide if the prediction you made was correct or not and explain why. Place your explanation below.
Followup Investigation
Design an investigation that will determine how the surface the ball/marble rolls upon affects the distance it will travel. Include a diagram to illustrate your design. Place the question being investigated on a sentence strip and post it above the area where you complete your investigation. Carry out your investigation and record all important data. Be prepared to provide an explanation as to whether or not your prediction was correct.
Or you may choose to investigate any of the following questions:
 How will the distance the ball/marble travels be affected by shortening the ramp (ruler) from 30 cm/12 inches to 15 cm/6 inches? Or lengthening the ramp to 45 cm/18 inches?
 How does the size of the marble (small, medium, and large) affect how far it will travel?
 How does the release point on the ruler affect the distance the ball/marble will travel?
As a Guided Inquiry: Balls and Ramps Student Guide
Introduction
This investigation is designed as a problemsolving activity or guided inquiry where the problem task is provided, but the procedure and collecting and organizing of the results are left to you. This investigation provides five tasks and the materials to complete each task, although you probably may not complete all five tasks. There are assorted balls and marbles in the bag of materials that act as both distracters and enablers. In this case, rather than being told, you will have to determine which items you need and which items you don’t need. The additional materials may also spur other questions and tasks to investigate.
To begin, follow the three steps listed below. From this initial exploration, consider one or more tasks from the list to investigate. For each task, write the question and a prediction or a hypothesis on a sentence strip. Post the sentence strip on the wall above your work. Determine the variables and controls needed, and design appropriate data tables to collect evidence for each investigation. Include a diagram to illustrate your investigation. Carry out your investigation and record all important data. Be prepared to provide an explanation as to whether or not your prediction/hypothesis was correct.
Procedure:
1. Place one end of the ruler on the edge of a block.
2. Place the ball/marble in the ruler’s groove as far up the ruler as possible.
3. Release the ball/marble.
Then choose any one or more of the following tasks:
 Task 1: Design and carry out a procedure that will answer the question: How does the height of an inclined plane affect the distance a ball or marble will travel? Record all your data in your science journal.
 Task 2: Using the materials at the station, design and carry out a procedure that will have a small ball or marble, when released from the top of a ramp, stop precisely at a point five feet from the end of the ramp. Draw an illustration of your design. Record all your data in your science journal.
 Task 3: Repeat Task 2, this time using a golf ball instead of a small ball or marble. Answer the question: How did you change the design of the procedure for Task 3? Record all your data in your science journal.
 Task 4: Design and carry out a procedure that will answer the question: How does the composition, diameter, or mass of a ball affect the distance it will travel? Record all your data in your science journal.
 Task 5: Design and carry out an investigation to determine how the angle of a ramp or the surface of the floor affects the distance a marble will travel. Draw an illustration of the design and record all your data in your science journal.
 Task 6: Replace the ridged plastic ruler/ramp with a flexible ramp. How does the shape of the ramp affect how far a ball or marble will travel?
 Task 7: Place a large wooden ball at the end of an inclined ramp. Place a smaller wooden ball at the top of the ramp. Release the smaller wooden ball and measure how far it moves the larger ball after a collision. Experiment with various sized wooden balls to explain how the size of the ball affects collisions and the distances moved.
As a SelfDirected Inquiry: Balls and Ramps Student Guide
Introduction
This investigation is a selfdirected inquiry. Here you will devise your own question, design and carry out the procedures to solve the question, and collect and organize evidence to support or refute the claim or hypothesis made from the question posed. There are assorted balls and marbles in the bag of materials that act as both distracters and enablers. Not all the supplies in the bag need to be used. You will have to determine which items you need to complete the task. The additional materials are expected to stimulate questions to investigate.
To begin, follow these three steps:
Procedure:
1. Place one end of the ruler on the edge of a block.
2. Place the ball/marble in the ruler’s groove as far up the ruler as possible.
3. Release the ball/marble.
From this initial exploration, consider possible questions to investigate. Choose one question and write a hypothesis for your investigation. Write both the question and the hypothesis on a sentence strip. Post the sentence strip on the wall above your work area. Determine the variables and constants needed, and design an appropriate data table to collect evidence for each investigation. Include a diagram to illustrate your investigation. Carry out your investigation and record all important data in your science journal. Be prepared to provide an explanation as to whether or not your prediction/hypothesis was correct as well as evidence to support or refute your hypothesis.
Title: ____________________________________________
Height 
Distance marble traveled (in cm)  
Trial 1 #1 
Trial 2 22#2 
Trial 3 #3 
Average  
2.5 cm 




5 cm 




7.5 cm 




10 cm 




12.5 cm 



