Pendulums Project

This is a project that we give to Year Nine across six hour long lessons – which in our case takes six weeks. It was inspired by reading about the dutch method of teaching science as recorded in the TIMSS International Video study. The Dutch seem to set assignments that require the students to pace themselves through long term assignments, and as our school was having a push on independent learning I thought I’d dip a toe in the water.

The project is mostly about experimental design and utilises the fact that we have enough datalogging kit for classes to be able to measure the period of a pendulum in more ways than just hand timing.

We’ve been doing this project for at least four years now. The boys don’t like it much – especially the top sets, because we refuse to help them and they are used to being able to get our help in setting experiments up, but I, and I hope my department, think it is a useful exercise. It certainly means that we do not have to bother covering pendulums again until Y13!


They are always surprised when they get an increase in time with swing size (pendulums only do SHM for angles of roughly 6 degrees or less) – our fault for the way we introduce pendulums in Y7 I suspect. They often get a tend when changing the bob mass because they do not take into account the fact that the change moves the centre of mass. They do not know what to do when there is no trend – again our fault, we always set experiments that have trends. And they always conclude that the computer readings were better, when actually the resulting trend from that experiment is a curve and not a straight line because of the mass of rod and probably the inertia of the pulley. Even when they notice that it gives a curve, they still conclude that that was the better experiment!

I’m always thinking that I ought to do another, but although I do have a sixth form project along similar lines, I’ve never yet thought of a topic which inspired me to do another for KS3 or 4.


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