The Force is With You (or Against You)

Contributor: Christine Anne Royce

Type Category: Instructional Materials

Types: Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan

Note: This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


This resource targets the phenomenon of energy transfer, the forces generated, and the resulting motion of an object. Student interest is engaged with the story, "The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring.” After reading the book, students investigate the forces acting on a slinky, then demonstrate and elaborate on their understanding of the concept by building spool racers. While the lessons target content related to both forces and energy, this review focuses on the Grade 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas of Forces and its Interactions.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
Upper Elementary
Grade 3
Grade 4
Grade 5


Access Restrictions
Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectation

3-PS2-1  Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.

Clarification Statement:

Examples could include an unbalanced force on one side of a ball can make it start moving; and, balanced forces pushing on a box from both sides will not produce any motion at all.

Assessment Boundary:

Assessment is limited to one variable at a time: number, size, or direction of forces. Assessment does not include quantitative force size, only qualitative and relative. Assessment is limited to gravity being addressed as a force that pulls objects down.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation

Students conduct a series of investigations to provide evidences of forces on the motion of an object. However, some of the discussion focuses on the effects of force on energy transfer, which is a fourth grade expectation. To explicitly align these investigations to this Performance Expectation, the focus needs to be on how objects at rest and in motion are the result of balanced and unbalanced forces. The introduction of a balloon hovercraft is suggested as a way to further reinforce these concepts. Students should also be provided opportunities to plan their own investigations based on the wonderings that emerge from their observations.

Science and Engineering Practice

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice

Students are asked to make observations as the investigate the various toys and this data provides the basis for discussing how forces acting on an object causes changes in its motion. They record these observations in a diagram or model on the worksheet provided or in their science notebook. To more explicitly align this resource to the practice, students could measure the distances car travels once it leaves the ramp. They could then measure the distance the car travels when the ramp height is increased. They could also measure how far the marble travels from a set position when different forces are applied to the marble that’s hitting it. It is suggested that students then add these observations to their initial model drawings and analyze the data.

Disciplinary Core Idea

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea

As described in the comments for the Performance Expectation, students will have multiple opportunities to investigate how changes in the strength and direction of the motion are the result of the force applied. The discussion of balanced and unbalanced forces as it relates to their observations needs to be made explicit. In addition to the questions that ask students to identify the force is acting on the yo-yo or car, the insertion of “Why?” is suggested. Such a discussion would enable students to understand that the strength of the gravitational pull creates an unbalanced force and results in the objects falling or being rolling down a ramp. Students may have their own "Why?" which could be charted. This would also provide formative assessment data that would direct further teacher modeling.

Crosscutting Concept

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept

Cause and effect is implied when students are asked questions such as, “When you start to pull a Slinky over, what do you notice about the way it moves?” The cause and effect relationship can easily be made more explicit by rephrasing the questions. Examples include, “What caused the Slinky to move?” Or, “What was the effect of pulling the Slinky over?”

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Implementation of the tips provided in this review will enable students to engage in three-dimensional learning to make sense of phenomena. Many opportunities are provided for them to engage in the practice of making observations, and this data enables the discussion of how forces acting on an object causes changes in its motion. It also provides grade appropriate connections to the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts. Through their investigations, students will also observe that forces acting on an object have both strength and a direction, but the concepts of balanced and unbalanced forces as it relates to their observations needs to be made explicit. Finally, the rephrasing of teacher questioning is suggested to reinforce the relationship between forces (cause) and its effect on motion.
  • Instructional Supports: This resource begins with a meaningful scenario in the non-fiction story of The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring, and provides students with a purpose for learning. The investigations and discussions that follow provide multiple opportunities for students to express, clarify, and justify their ideas. The inclusion of model drawing throughout the investigations enable the use of representations that support their learning. While differentiation of instruction is not specifically addressed, the inclusion of model drawing provides an appropriate alternative for visual learners. Developing the relationship between force, motion, and energy as described in this resource is recommended to extend student learning.
  • Monitoring Student Progress: The hands-on investigations and the discussions that follow them elicits direct observable evidence of student’s learning. Specifically, the resource recommends that teachers use the observations recorded on their student data sheet, and the explanations of their understanding in their discussions as evaluative evidence. To assess students summatively, it is suggested that students revisit and revise their initial model of the Slinky’s movement to reflect what they have learned through their investigations. A rubric to assess their model drawings can be found here:
  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.