Submitted by: Developed by Jefferson County Middle School Workshop

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this middle school lesson plan, students use an interactive simulation called Projectile Motion to design and conduct their own experiment.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Explore the physics of projectiles
  2. Review the process skills of designing and conducting an experiment


  • Computers or other devices with internet access


acceleration, air resistance, force, mass, projective, trajectory, velocity


This lesson plan features an interactive simulation titled Projectile Motion, developed by our award-winning partner PhET through the University of Colorado Boulder. The simulation invites students to investigate the the factors that affect a projectile’s trajectory, such as angle, height, initial speed, and air resistance.    

Review the Projectile Motion Simulation Overview to learn about the sim controls, model simplifications, and insights into student thinking.

Preview and play with the Projectile Motion sim to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Acceleration; Distance, Rate, and Time; Newton’s Law of Motion; Forces; and Conservation of Mass

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Play one or more of the BrainPOP movies suggested in the Preparation section for background.
  2. Engage students in a discussion about projectiles. For a warm up activity, have students wad a piece of paper and try throwing it into the garbage can. Then have students try throwing different types of objects into the ‘basket’ such as a sheet of paper, a tennis ball, a golf ball, a feather, a beach ball, a cotton ball, etc.
  3. Ask them to make observations/comparisons about the tossed objects (e.g., Why did some make it into the basket and some did not? Did all papers follow the same path?)
  4. Now have students write their best understanding of the word “projectile” and discuss as a class. Then invite them to reflect on the warm-up activity: What factors do you think affect projectile movement?
  5. Working with a partner, have students select one of the factors that affect projectile movement and together propose a question. Then have them write a hypothesis using an if… then… because… statement.
  6. Instruct students to open the Projectile Motion sim and click the green RUN NOW button. Have them  familiarize themselves with the controls and features and determine how they will test their question.
  7. Now have them design a table and collect data, and show the relationship of their data in a graph.
  8. Ask students to describe why using the simulation is a good method for studying projectiles. And, have them identify the error sources the simulation eliminates or minimizes.
  9. Finally, partners work together to write a concluding paragraph that restates their question, discusses their results in relation to their hypothesis, and asks questions about their investigation