Kinetic vs. Potential Energy Online Lab and Inquiry Activity


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Using PhET simulations, students explore the relationship of kinetic and potential energy in a closed system. Students become aware of the Law of Conservation of Energy and also experiment with friction.

The original version of this lab uses the following web page:


However, PhET has created a new and improved version of this sim available here:


This resource includes student pages for BOTH simulations which you choose between or use as differentiation.

The original sim has 3 parts:

  • Introduction (no friction)
  • Friction (with friction)
  • Playground (free play)


The updated sim has 4 parts:

  • Introduction (with and without friction, based on settings)
  • Measure (worksheet incorporates a math portion)
  • Graphs
  • Playground (free play)


Both versions of this lab also come with answer keys and digital versions using Google Slides.


Who is this resource for?

This resource can be used by classroom teachers, tutors, and parents of students in grades 6-9. It comprehensively covers the topics mentioned, and provides opportunities for student responses which can be implemented in a whole group lesson or assigned for homework. Ideal for classrooms with internet access and student devices.


How Can I Use this Kinetic & Potential Energy Lab?

  • Emergency Sub Plans
  • An independent work station in a set of stations
  • Flipped Classroom pre-reading
  • Whole or small group opportunity to model and teach Close Reading strategies and annotation
  • Differentiation – Assign this kinetic and potential energy lab as reteaching for students who have yet to show mastery.
  • Homework
  • Creation of Independent Work Packet for students who are not able to be present for direct instruction.
  • Extension activity for early finishers or for students who show a special interest in the topic
  • Use as a square on a Choice Board
  • Interactive Notebooks: Print 2 pages in one and cut apart. Glue mini pages into notebooks with room for annotations on the side
  • Interactive Notebooks: Print entire PDF as a mini booklet and add to notebooks using thesesimple instructions.


What’s Included?

Purchase includes a printable PDF file in color. On page 2 of this resource you will find a link to a student friendly Google Slide version of this file. You will be able to copy this file and use it with Google Classroom or any other paperless initiative.


Please take a look at the preview file to see more of this resource.


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NGSS Standards covered by this Kinetic & Potential Energy Lab:

Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object. Emphasis is on descriptive relationships between kinetic energy and mass separately from kinetic energy and speed. Examples could include riding a bicycle at different speeds, rolling different sizes of rocks downhill, and getting hit by a wiffle ball versus a tennis ball.
Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. Examples of empirical evidence used in arguments could include an inventory or other representation of the energy before and after the transfer in the form of temperature changes or motion of object. Assessment does not include calculations of energy.
Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer. Examples of devices could include an insulated box, a solar cooker, and a Styrofoam cup. Assessment does not include calculating the total amount of thermal energy transferred.
Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system. Emphasis is on relative amounts of potential energy, not on calculations of potential energy. Examples of objects within systems interacting at varying distances could include: the Earth and either a roller coaster cart at varying positions on a hill or objects at varying heights on shelves, changing the direction/orientation of a magnet, and a balloon with static electrical charge being brought closer to a classmate’s hair. Examples of models could include representations, diagrams, pictures, and written descriptions of systems. Assessment is limited to two objects and electric, magnetic, and gravitational interactions.
Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample. Examples of experiments could include comparing final water temperatures after different masses of ice melted in the same volume of water with the same initial temperature, the temperature change of samples of different materials with the same mass as they cool or heat in the environment, or the same material with different masses when a specific amount of energy is added. Assessment does not include calculating the total amount of thermal energy transferred.


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