Sunday, September 27, 2020

RT;DL The Clever Dumbbell - Tension & Inertia Demo

A classic and popular demo. I do it in Conceptual Physics, Physics, and AP Physics 1. And I use a 5-lb dumbbell and kite/packaging cotton string. For years, I used a cast-iron dumbbell. But I broke floor tiles on occasion, and there was that one time the wheel-like nature of the dumbbell ends allowed it to roll onto a student's open ... toes. So I found rubberized hexagonal-end dumbbells. And I use a cardboard catch-box with scrap paper to protect the tiles.

After posing the initial question: Which string will break when the bottom string is pulled, I have them work through some leading questions.

Instead of having students predict which string will break, I have them request a string for me to break. Once they understand this paradigm shift, they request the bottom string. And I oblige. Eventually I break the top string, too. This can be navigated in the preso, alone. But I prefer to do the demo in my empty classroom because I can.

The efficacy of this demo lies in the dependence of the outcome on the presenter's technique. If it were a 50-50 coin flip each time, the demo would not have any pedagogical value. Some ponderables are offered post-demo, too.

As is a continuing theme in my RT;DLs, the student sheet is a Google Doc and the preso is an Apple Keynote preso, exported to HTML. These exports work delightfully on computers. Not so well on tablets or phones. 

This one takes a bit of practice to navigate. 

Things shown in images but not in words: strings break when they are stretched beyond their limit by tension greater than the sting can withstand. A rapid pull stretches the bottom string through its limit before the dumbbell moves very much, thus keeping the top string from being stretched. A slow pull allows the top string to be at greater tension than the bottom string, allowing it to reach its limit before the bottom string does.

Student sheet: Demo - The Clever Dumbbell

HTML Preso: Demo - The Clever Dumbbell

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