Trying an experiment described in Steven Strogatz’s Infinite Powers with my son

I got my copy of Steven Strogatz’s new book back in April:

I’ve used it for two projects with my kids already:

Using Steven Strogatz’s Infinite Powers with a 7th grader

Following up on our conversation about Steven Strogatz’s Infinite Powers with some basic calculus ideas

Today my older son was back from camp and I thought it would be fun to try an experiment that is described in the first part of chapter 3 of the book. The experiment involves a ball rolling down a ramp and is based on an experiment of Galileo’s that Strogatz describes.

I started by having my son read the first part of chapter 3 and then tell me what he learned:

Now we took a shot at measuring the time it takes for the ball to roll down the ramp.

I misspoke in this video – we’ll be taking the measurement of the distance the ball travels after 1 second and then after 2 seconds. I’m not sure what made me think we needed to measure it at 4 seconds.

Anyway, here’s the set up and the 5 rolls we used to measure the distance after 1 second.

Here’s the measurement of the distance the ball rolled after 2 seconds. We were expecting the ratio of the distances to be 4 to 1. Unfortunately we found that the ratio was closer to 2 to 1.

We guessed (or maybe hoped!) that the problem in the last two videos was that the ramp wasn’t steep enough. So, we raised the ramp a bit and this time we did find that the distances traveled after two seconds was roughly 4 times the distance traveled after 1 second.

This is definitely a fun experiment to try out with kids. Also a nice lesson that physics experiments can be pretty hard for math people to get right 🙂