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The Physics Of Sports

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.536.1 - 4.536.4



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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth A. Parry

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Laura Bottomley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1380

The Physics of Sports Laura J. Bottomley, Elizabeth A. Parry North Carolina State University/Science Surround

Physics is probably the most used and the least appreciated science. As soon as we are born, we begin to experiment and discover physical laws. But sometime before we reach adulthood, we frequently develop the idea that physics comprises some mysterious set of principles that we are ill equipped to understand. As part of an effort to reach out to children of ages three through twelve, we have developed a “physics” class relating several physical principles to sports.

In the class we cover aerodynamics, elastic and inelastic collisions and projectile motion. Each topic is explored using a series of experiments performed by the children in the class. Through the hands-on experience, we hope to not only teach the children about the principles of physics involved, but also to enable them to feel competent and excited about science. The lasting impression we hope to leave is that science is fun and easy to understand.

Most children of any age will have had a chance to play with balls, so we start the class by examining a basket of balls. We look at the balls inside and out and discover what makes a ball bounce. We then ask the children to consider the design of each kind of ball and to analyze why different balls are composed of different materials put together in different ways. We even make a ball out of a rock. From there we discuss the concept of air resistance and, using a fan with streamers attached, allow the children to discover the aerodynamic design of each ball. The final portion of the class examines projectile motion. Using a hose, we use a stream of water to illustrate the path of a projectile. We then ask the children to guess which balls will make the best projectiles and how they must be thrown. Through a series of experiments, the children then have an opportunity to test their hypotheses.

The class is fun, familiar, and quite intuitive for children of each age with whom we have worked. Through sports and balls, many of these children have had their first physics class--one which we hope will exert a positive influence on their science education for a long time to come.

The following sections of the paper are written in the conversational style in which the class is taught. This is done for several reasons. It makes the paper easier to read, but most importantly illustrates for the reader the style, which the authors find most appropriate for the delivery of the information to the intended audience of the class:

Parry, E. A., & Bottomley, L. (1999, June), The Physics Of Sports Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina. 10.18260/1-2--7887

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