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Physics Classes Test Newton's First Law

OC Physics teacher Mr. Reece Norman knows that sometimes the best way to explain a concept to his students is to show it in action, or in this case, inaction. To set the stage for studying Newton's First Law of Motion, he fully embraced this approach, much to the delight of his Physics I classes. He set up four distinct and entertaining activities, each illustrating the same principle. For those of us who are a few (or more) years removed from physics class, Mr. Norman explained these demonstrations were "an introduction to the concept of inertia; the idea in physics that objects resist change to their state of motion."

In the first experiment, students pulled a large sheet of paper from beneath a china plate without breaking it - a scaled-down version of the classic 'yank the tablecloth from under the dinner plates' trick. The next two activities similarly involved precise and swift removal of pieces from varying towers that allowed students to see how the remaining objects maintained their positions in spite of these actions. In the grand finale, Mr. Norman positioned himself under large wooden boards loaded with fifty pounds of weight. The students struck the weights with a rubber mallet as hard as they could. Luckily, he assured onlookers that "because the force is dispersed through the mass of the weights and then the board, all I feel is a slight increase in pressure rather than a painful hammer strike." Students left class with a firm grasp on this essential concept and a new appreciation for their brave teacher.


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