How many of our Physics textbook questions begin with "a hockey puck glides across a frictionless ice surface..." or "one skater pushes back on the other..."? The questions are obviously designed to help Canadian students connect with everyday experiences they have had, but I wondered how some of these questions would translate into an actual investigation.

Grade Level/Course Code: SPH3U, SPH4U

Strand(s) and Unit(s): SPH3U - Forces, SPH4U - Energy and Momentum (Could easily be applied to other units also)

Inquiry Focus:

  • How frictionless is the ice surface
  • Can we determine the coefficient of friction between the ice surface and other materials
  • What types of collisions (between hockey pucks) can we create
  • How can we determine the impulse imparted by the boards or by a rough patch of ice
  • How much more friction is there after an hour of using the ice when compared with a freshly flooded surface
  • How does the mass of a puck affect the acceleration
  • Is there a difference in how the ice surface affects the motion of a hockey puck vs. a ringette ring


We spent approximately 2 classes (75 minutes each) ahead of time in preparation of our experiments. We started by group brainstorming some conepts the students were interested in investigating (questions such as those in the section above). The students then worked in small groups to plan out their experimental design. We spent approximately 1.5 hours at the arena, followed up by a full period of group consolidation work. We worked on this towards the end of the unit so that students would have a good grounding in the material and were able to bring their own knowledge to the experimental design.

Overall Expectations:


  • C2: Investigate, in qualitative and quantitative terms, through laboratory inquiry or computer simulation, the relationship between the laws of conservation of energy and conservation of momentum, and solve related problems.
  • A1: Demonstrate scientific investigation skills (related to both inquiry and reserach) in the four areas of skills (initiating and planning, performing and recording, analysing and interpreting, and communicating)


  • C2:Investigate, in qualitative and quantitative terms, net force, acceleration, and mass, and solve related problems
  • A1:Demonstrate scientific investigation skills (related to both inquiry and reserach) in the four areas of skills (initiating and planning, performing and recording, analysing and interpreting, and communicating)

Materials and Equipment:

  • Groups were encouraged to plan their experiment based on the equipment they could bring in from home. Our school Physical Education Dept. has a good supply of extra helmets and skates that were made available to us.
  • Depending on the experimental design of each group, I also brought a supply of metre sticks, various masses, a mass scale, a trundle wheel, dry erase markers (you can write on the ice surface and it will wash off when the zamboni cleans), timers, and a few school iPads.


  • Students were required to have their parent or guardian sign a field trip permission form.
  • It is important to check out the OPHEA website for any physical activities. It is an excellent resource.
  • All students who were on the ice needed to have properly fitting skates and an ice-sport helmet.
  • Students were required to be physically aware of the space around them - watching of other skaters.
  • We had clear rules about the use of hockey sticks and pucks - no slap shots!
  • Warm clothing was required to be worn.
  • Approximately 85% of the students in the two classese were on the ice. Students who chose not to skate were able to participate by acting as recorders from the bench.

Assessment Opportunities:

  • Students completed a group planning sheet outlining their experimental design (initiating and planning).
  • Students were observed throughout the on-ice activity (performing and recording).
  • A final product of an individual experiment write-up was formally evaluated (analysing and interpreting, communicating).


Many of the students commented that they would have liked a second opportunity to experiment on the ice. After analysing their data, they identified areas that needed further investigation or identified secondary questions that would have been valuable to explore. Because of the proximity to the school and availability of the ice surface, I intend to plan for a follow up visit. Going forward, I would reserve two ice times.

Below is an image of a 4U student using a launching device of his own creation. Their group was exploring the potential relationship between angle of impact and conservation of momentum. This group had a particular interest in how `good` the boards were at returning pucks.

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