Spinning Things: An Investigation with Tops

Greg De Francis
Education Coordinator
Montshire Museum Of Science
Norwich, Vermont

This is a quick outline of the inquiry investigation we will do today. We could easily use this 45-60 minute investigation with students to launch into a month-long unit of play and experimentation with tops, gyroscopes, and other spinning things. If you need scientific jargon to back up your reason for doing such foolishness in the classroom, your students will gain a greater conceptual understanding of such abstract concepts like momentum, inertia, mass, gyroscopic precession and much more through their play with tops. I chose this investigation as an example of what we mean by inquiry science, and how good inquiry lessons lead to students becoming scientists themselves: asking questions from the material; designing experiments to answer these questions; manipulating and changing the material in various ways to perform their experiments; and finally possibly finding an answer to their question, but more importantly finding new questions to ask. Thus the thinking, experimenting, and questioning (all part of doing science) can go on and on, in exciting and sometimes unanticipated ways. This evolves into a wonderful and positive feedback loop for the learning process.


This is an example of the kind of teaching outline I might follow if I were covering this subject with my students. I might add to it in places, delete in others. Be aware of your students ideas, be willing to deviate from your agenda to let them answer their questions, and have fun experimenting (playing) with science.

Reproduced with permission from the author.

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