The CPU Project


CPU Units




For each of the seven CPU Curriculum Units listed below, you can read either a brief summary of the unit or a longer overview that describes the target ideas of every cycle in the unit. Microsoft Word versions of the overviews are also linked below, along with sample activities that come complete with snapshots of simulator setups. See our Tips & Resources page for additional help on implementing CPU units.  Download the CPU Curriculum Units (241 MB) at no charge (read me first).  

Underpinnings Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity

Light & Color Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity

Force & Motion Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity

Static Electricty & Magnetism Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity

Current Electricity Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity
Pedagogy (with Current Electricty examples)

Waves & Sound Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity

Nature of Matter Unit

Brief Summary
Overview (Word version)
Sample Activity



Underpinnings Icon

Underpinnings

This collection of activities is referred to as Underpinnings because the content may be used to form the underpinnings for much of the rest of the CPU units. The set of activities is about the nature and processes of science. Science involves observation, measurement, looking for trends in sets of data, use of various modes of representation (such as graphing), seeking meaning through interpreting observations, and then modeling relations between an outcome and possible factors that affect it. In daily life people seek to be able to explain how and why natural events happen the way they do. When we think we perceive a relationship, assuming that relationship is true allows us to make a prediction. Then, we experiment to test or verify that our idea works or doesn't. When we have gained confidence that our ideas work, we allow ourselves to use this idea and others to solve problems and interpret other phenomena. In this way we continue to test and revise our ideas, and our predictions and explanations get progressively more reliable and valid. These are some of the aspects of science that form the underpinnings for being able to conduct an inquiry into the workings of the natural world and the human-made world.
      The Underpinnings unit can be used as an introductory unit to a physical science course, or individual activities could be used appropriately to introduce particular aspects of science at the beginning, or embedded within, other CPU units. Titles of activities include Operational Definitions, Representing Measurements, Representing Uncertainty in Calculations, Graphing, Ratio Reasoning, Relating Graphs and Ratios, Scientific Explanation, and Designing Experiments. Unlike the remaining CPU units, there is no simulator that accompanies Underpinnings.


Light and Color Icon

Light and Color

The Light and Color unit is intended to engage students in myriad experiences with hands-on and computer-based materials that will help them modify their existing ideas and construct new ideas about light and color. The focus of the unit is geometrical optics.
      The unit consists of four cycles. In the first cycle learners explore illumination, shadows and pinhole patterns. Groups begin by exploring the effects of light from a point source, then extend their models to account for interesting shadows and pinhole patterns caused by larger light sources. In the second cycle students refine and expand their model of the behavior of light to develop explanations for images formed by mirrors. The third cycle guides students through inquiry on refraction, and images formed by lenses. By the end of these three cycles learners are able to qualitatively explain quite complex optical phenomena using a ray model of light. The final cycle takes a trek through color. Upon completion of this cycle learners are able to explain complex colored shadows, how red, green and blue lights are mixed to form color television pictures, and the color printing process used to produce items such as the Sunday comics.


Motion and Forces Icon

Force and Motion

In the Force and Motion Unit, students develop models for motion, force, energy, and the relationships between the three concepts over seven cycles. The first two cycles use the Microcomputer Based Laboratory (MBL) and the Force and Motion simulator to help students represent unidirectional motion. The first cycle focuses on graphical representations of motion and the relationship between acceleration and speed. The second cycle enables students to make connections between applied forces and the resulting motions. Students develop models for inertia and how objects' motions change when subjected to balanced and unbalanced forces. The third cycle extends representations of motions and forces to two dimensions and introduces non-constant forces.
      In the fourth cycle, students use bathroom scales, spring scales, simulators, and the MBL to get a sense of equal and opposite forces, conservation of momentum, and the connection between momentum and force. The fifth cycle introduces the concept of force at a distance (that is, a force that doesn't require objects to touch), with a focus on gravity and how weight differs from mass. The fifth cycle also examines balanced forces and inertia in the vertical direction. In the sixth cycle. students bring together the ideas developed in the first five cycles to develop models for two-dimensional and rotational motions in the presence of forces (including gravity). The seventh and final cycle focuses on energy transfer and energy conservation. 


Static Electricity & Magnetism

Static Electricity and Magnetism

Students develop models for static electricity and magnetism in four cycles. The first cycle introduces both static electric and magnetic effects, some of which may be new to students. Groups have the tasks of distinguishing between magnetic and static electric phenomena as well as making sense of their observations.
      Cycle II involves the building of models of magnetism using special hardened nails which can be strongly magnetized. The central activity of breaking and testing a magnetized nail challenges groups' models of magnetism, and other activities help groups to develop models similar to the magnetic domain model.
      Cycles III and IV involve groups in the task of constructing models of static electricity. This requires making sense of effects due to different materials, and different types of static electric interactions. Special simulators provide important guidance by making particular features of the traditional model of static electricity visible. Cycle IV deals with the phenomena of electrostatic induction using low cost "soda can electroscopes" and high tech simulators to help students formulate models of this very interesting topic.


Current Electricity Icon

Current Electricity

This unit focuses on developing and elaborating a model for understanding direct current electric circuits. Groups use batteries, bulbs, compasses, hand cranked generators and other simple devices to do experiments and gather information. Groups also frequently use powerful simulation software to connect experimental results with their own developing understanding of electricity.
      The idea of electrical flow in circuits is gradually developed by groups and its usefulness is expanded through a number of cycles. In Cycle I, groups gather basic information: they investigate how a bulb must be connected to a battery to get it to light, and they investigate the function of certain parts of bulbs, holders, and wires. Cycle II adds observations of special circuits which help groups begin to understand the nature of current flow in circuits.
      Cycle III introduces special capacitors which help groups determine where the stuff comes from that flows in circuits. (These capacitors are also a lot of fun!) Cycles IV and V provide groups the setting and opportunity to develop more complete understandings of the relationships between circuit elements and the rate of flow, and the function of flow in causing bulbs to light.


Waves and Sound Icon

Sound and Waves

Students work to develop an understanding of the behavior of mechanical waves and sound in four cycles plus an optional fifth cycle on simple harmonic motion. Cycle I develops student ideas about measurable wave properties and behaviors for water waves and waves on a spring. While students begin their work with actual ripple tanks they move to use a ripple tank simulation as they progress through the cycle.
      In Cycle II students investigate sound sources and detectors through a series of activities where they make connections between the vibrating source, its detection and our perception of the sound. After work with real objects, students use tools from the sound lab simulator to record, produce and analyze simple and complex sounds. Cycle III has students explore the behavior of sound waves in different media with the simulator allowing visualization of the unseen pressure variations.
      Cycle IV builds on students' previous work to explore a range of more complex phenomena including resonance, Doppler effect, interference and diffraction. As before students start with real objects and move to use of both simulators as they move through the unit. In Cycle V, traditionally the start of a unit on mechanical waves, students investigate the periodic motion of vibrating objects.


Nature of Matter Icon

Nature of Matter

The Nature of Matter Unit enables students to modify their existing ideas and construct new ideas about the nature of matter--what makes up the things we see around us. The unit consists of four cycles: One introductory cycle and three main cycles. The introductory cycle (Cycle A) is intended for students with little background in the variables studied in this unit. The first main cycle (Cycle I) examines observable phenomena involving air. The second cycle (Cycle II) begins to introduce a particulate theory for gases. The third cycle (Cycle III) extends this particulate theory of matter to solids and liquids. The Nature of Matter Unit uses the Small Particle Model group of simulators.
      We strongly recommend that you teach the Static Electricity and Magnetism Unit before this unit, so that your students have practice developing models. This is an abstract unit and very model-based, so the more comfortable your students are with models and abstract concepts, the easier this unit will be. This unit is also highly qualitative. It is intended more for a physics course for future elementary school teachers than for a high school physics course. One could expand this unit so that it examines more of the quantitative issues using (for example) the quantitative tools available in the simulators. As it stands, however, the Nature of Matter Unit concentrates on qualitative analysis.



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