Teach About Newton's Laws of Motion
Use these free STEM lessons and activities to teach about Newton's laws of motion.
Newton's Laws of Motion in the K-12 Classroom
Across all grade bands, students explore science related to forces, motion, and interactions between objects; concepts that use Newton's laws of motion as a fulcrum for understanding forces and motion; inertia and equilibrium; the relationship between mass and acceleration; the difference between acceleration and velocity; and how to predict whether objects will move, continue to move, or stop moving and why. (Jump to a summary of NGSS standards related to Newton's laws of motion)
Together, Newton's laws of motion describe inertia (the resistance of an object to a change in motion); the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration; and action-reaction force pairs respectively:
- Newton's first law of motion: Unless acted upon by an unbalanced force, an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion at the same speed and in the same direction.
- Newton's second law of motion: The acceleration of an object depends on the mass of the object and the amount of force applied. From this law, we derive the following equation: Force = mass × acceleration (F=ma).
- Newton's third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The free STEM lessons and activities below help students explore Newton's laws of motion and discover how these laws explain how an object in motion or at rest behaves and what happens when an unbalanced force is applied to an object. At the bottom of this resource, you will find additional background information related to teaching Newton's laws of motion in K-12, NGSS information, and a list of key vocabulary words. For students looking for science projects, we have also included a list of independent science and science fair projects that relate to Newton's laws of motion.
Note: Science Buddies Lesson Plans contain materials to support educators leading hands-on STEM learning with students. Lesson Plans offer NGSS alignment, contain background materials to boost teacher confidence, even in areas that may be new to them, and include supplemental resources like worksheets, videos, discussion questions, and assessment materials. Activities are simplified explorations that can be used in the classroom or in informal learning environments.
All 3 of Newton's Laws of Motion Demonstrated in One Activity — Balloon Cars
Most of the activities and lessons below focus on one or two of the laws of motion. The Build a Balloon Car activity specifically talks about all three of Newton's laws of motion students can observe when building and experimenting with a simple balloon-powered car. This is an accessible hands-on activity that uses recycled materials and balloons for a fun combined engineering design project and physics experiment. The activity can be used with a wide range of grade levels to introduce and demonstrate the laws of motion. See the "Digging Deeper" section for a straightforward discussion of how each law of motion can be identified in the balloon car activity. (For a related lesson plan, see Balloon Car Lesson Plans, which is NGSS-aligned for middle school and focuses on the third law of motion.)
Lessons and Resources to Teach Newton's Laws of Motion
First and Second Laws of Motion
Targeted for early elementary school, the Push and Pull lesson guides students in an exploration of the push and pull forces. This lesson works in tandem with the companion Push, Pull and Weight lesson. Educators can use these lessons to teach about the first and second laws of motion. Questions: Does the ball ever move on its own? What happens when you push the ball harder?
In the Push and Pull Forces: What Makes Things Move? video lesson students play a game rolling balls to explore how pushing and pulling affects an object's motion. Questions: How will an object move when a push or pull force is applied to it? Is a push or pull needed to stop or start an objects' motion? Why or why not? (Tip! Click play on one of our video lessons, and we'll guide students through the science and a hands-on exploration.)
In the Skydive Into Forces lesson, students make parachutes and then investigate how they work to slow down a falling object. As students investigate the forces that are involved, educators can introduce Newton's second law of motion and how different forces change the resulting speed of a falling object. Questions: What forces help slow down the speed of a falling object? How does a parachute help slow the fall?
4. Push Harder
In the Push Harder — Newton's Second Law lesson, students build their own cars using craft materials and get hands-on exploring Newton's second law of motion and the equation "force equals mass times acceleration" (F=ma). Options for gathering real-time data include using a mobile phone and a sensor app or using a meter stick and a stopwatch. Questions: What is the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration? As force increases, what happens to acceleration?
In the Forces and Motion lesson, students experiment with using a spring scale to push a box across a table. Using a mobile phone and a sensor app, students can measure the box's acceleration as they explore Newton's second law of motion and the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration. Question: What forces act upon a box being pushed across the floor (or another flat surface)?
Third Law of Motion
In the Engineering Car Crash Safety with Newton's Third Law lesson, students explore Newton's third law of motion and learn about equal and opposite reaction forces. In the lesson, students experiment to see what happens when cars crash and then design and build bumpers for a toy car to investigate how safety bumpers can reduce the impact and damage from a crash. Questions: How does Newton's third law of motion explain what happens when two cars crash? How can physics help explain why two cars might have a similar amount of damage after a crash?
In the Two-Stage Balloon Rocket lesson, students experiment with multi-stage balloon rockets. The lesson provides direct observation of Newton's third law of motion as well as discussion and NGSS-alignment related to teaching about the second law of motion. Questions: In a single-stage balloon rocket, what affects the rocket's acceleration? What are the potential advantages of a multi-stage rocket?
In the Teaching Engineering Design with an Egg Drop lesson, students conduct a classic physics experiment in which they design a safety device to protect an egg that is dropped from a certain height. Students explore the second and third laws of motion as they investigate the forces at play when the egg is dropped. This lesson also provides a hands-on introduction and learning opportunity for teaching students about the engineering design process as they brainstorm, prototype, and test ways to protect the egg. Questions: How is Newton's third law of motion related to effectively creating a device that can help protect an egg upon impact from a fall? Why would a device that decreases the acceleration of the falling egg help protect the egg?
9. Balloon Car
In the Balloon Car Lesson Plans lesson, students build and explore balloon-powered cars. This lesson focuses mostly on energy, but it also demonstrates Newton's laws of motion. Guidance is provided for talking specifically about the third law of motion. Question: how does the air escaping the balloon relate to Newton's third law of motion? Does the car continue to coast after the balloon is deflated? Why or why not?
Teaching About Newton's Laws of Motion in K-12
In learning about Newton's first law of motion, students observe and discuss forces like drag, friction, and gravitational forces. They differentiate between velocity and acceleration and learn to correctly identify acceleration as a change in motion that may be caused by an unbalanced force acting on an object. When an unbalanced force is applied, an object may be put into motion (from rest) or may accelerate or decelerate in response to the unbalanced force.
In learning about Newton's second law of motion, students make the connection between an object's acceleration, its mass, and the strength of the unbalanced force that is causing a change in motion. This relationship forms the basis of the force = mass × acceleration equation (or F = ma). Using Newton's second law of motion, students can calculate and compare how much force is required to achieve a certain acceleration based on an object's mass.
In learning about Newton's third law of motion, students identify and explore action-reaction force pairs. Students can observe "equal and opposite reactions" in everyday actions like jumping but can also see the third law of motion demonstrated in how rocket launchers work.
NGSS Standards and Newton's Laws of Motion
Middle and High School
NGSS standards specifically call out disciplinary core ideas related to Newton's laws for middle school and high school in PS2.A:
MS PS2.A.1: Forces and Motion
For any pair of interacting objects, the force exerted by the first object on the second object is equal in strength to the force that the second object exerts on the first, but in the opposite direction (Newton’s third law).
MS PS2.A.2: Forces and Motion
The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion.
HS PS2.A: Forces and Motion
Newton's second law accurately predicts changes in the motion of macroscopic objects.
The following middle and high school performance expectations are explicitly defined in the context of Newton's laws of motion:
Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.
Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object. (See NGSS "clarification statement" for Newton's laws references.)
Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.
While NGSS doesn't specifically reference Newton's laws in other standards, Newton's laws of motion are observed when exploring forces and motion and are evidenced even in early elementary experiments related to forces like push and pull. Newton's laws are addressed conceptually in the following elementary school standards:
Disciplinary core areas:
K-PS2.A: Forces and Motion
Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.
K-PS2.B: Types of Interactions
When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion.
3-PS2.A: Forces and Motion
Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and a direction. An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object’s speed or direction of motion.
Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.
Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.
Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
Consult the Next Generation Science Standards for additional/complete information regarding performance expectations and disciplinary core ideas.
Note: For additional educator resources to teach about energy or forces of motion, see:
Projects for Student Exploration
Students interested in physics and engineering can explore Newton's laws of motion with independent science and science fair projects like these:
- How Far Will It Fly? Build & Test Paper Planes with Different Drag
- Centripetal Force
- You've Got Permission to Be a Backseat Driver!
- What A Drag!
- Solid Motor Rocket Propulsion
- Measuring the Surface Tension of Water
- Power Kicks: The Physics of Martial Arts
- Unleash the Power of a Pinwheel!
The following word bank contains words that may be covered when teaching about Newton's laws of motion using the lessons and activities in this resource.
- Center of mass
- Classical mechanics
- Force pair
- Law of motion
- Newtonian mechanics
- Newton's first law of motion
- Newton's second law of motion
- Newton's third law of motion
- Unbalanced force
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