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Rough Science 4: Crater impact

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Problem solving
Topic: Forces

Crater Impact is a fun, easy to use investigation into kinetic and potential energy. It is set in the context 'If a large asteroid hit the Earth, could it cause global catastrophe?' Pupils simulate asteroid impacts on a tabletop scale by dropping objects into sand. They can investigate how the speed and mass of their 'asteroid' affects the distance that the debris travels or the size of the 'crater' produced.
The activity addresses the whole range of investigative skills. It is a specially adapted version of a popular brief from the Pupil Researcher Initiative.

Published: 23rd January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 2

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KS3 QCA Unit 9J Gravity and Space / 9K Speeding Up / 9M Investigating Scientific Questions
KS4 Single/Double Science: Forces and their effects

Running the activity

Pupils read page 1 Crater Impact : Science fact or fiction to set the context.
Page 2 is a help sheet.
Asteroid speed Pupils are told that dropping the object from different heights gives it a different speed on impact. Speed is used (rather than height) to make it easier to predict the effect on the kinetic energy of the asteroid and thus the effect of the impact.
Asteroid mass This can be varied using objects of different sizes. For a fair test, these should be made of the same material e.g. all ball bearings or plasticine. Mass is used (rather than diameter) to make it easier to predict the effect on the kinetic energy of the asteroid and thus the effect of the impact.
Debris range This is the furthest distance any sand from the 'planet surface' travels.
Sprinkling powder paint over the surface with a sieve and tapping the container so it settles makes measurement easier.
Crater size This is the diameter of the crater that the dropped object makes.
Pupils than plan their investigation, using the question prompts on the help sheet - page 2.
Knowledge of the formula for kinetic energy is needed to make predictions about how the speed or mass of the asteroid will affect the impact. Pupils are told that the bigger the kinetic energy, the bigger the crater and the bigger the debris range. It is worth doing a trial run to check that there is enough sand/powder in the tray.

Extension activities- pages 3 and 4
These activities exploit the context of the investigation, giving it a more personal dimension. Pupils can scale up their results to estimate the effects of a real impact, and also consider ways we could protect ourselves from a collision. They get more practice of calculations and thinking about probabilities.

Some of the activities are more appropriate for brighter pupils.

News links

Rough Science
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Pupil Researcher Initiative
For more investigations set in contexts such as this, see the Pupil Research Brief from PRI. These were sent to all schools in 1995/96, and are now available on the PRI website

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Cojoined twins

Dec 8th, 2007

5 Star

Up popped Cojoined Twins, just as I was teaching about asexual and sxual reproduction. The story captivated my Yr 10 and inspired them to discuss some deep opinions.

Reviewer: Wendy Greenleaf

Earth & Space: Crater Impact

Oct 9th, 2006

4 Star

I tried this exercise on my Y10, single subject Physics group for the "Earth in the Universe" P1 module. They found it quite challenging, but it was extremely useful to me for differentiation of ability within the group.

Reviewer: Stephen Clark