a speed limit sign

Using an Active Model to Measure Speed

This simple activity allows students to use a formula to determine speed after measuring both distance traveled and time .

This activity should be completed after introducing the definition and formula for speed (possibly the next day). In this activity, students will use a trundle wheel to measure distance and a stopwatch to measure time. My class walked around the hall, but any convenient location would work.  

Related vocabulary:



Only a trundle wheel, a stopwatch, and means to record data are necessary for this activity. 


Warm Up:

  1. Begin by discussing a common speed limit like 55 mph.  Ask the students what this means. 
  2. Discuss the unit miles PER hour.  This means that you will be traveling at 55 miles in one hour. 
  3. Explain to the class that they will be measuring speed in meters/second using the formula 

Speed = Distance/Time  

Please see Jim Clark’s 3-variable formula triangle if students are having difficulty using the formula.

Distance measurement using the trundle wheel:  Measure several distances using the trundle wheel.  Have the each member of the class take a turn using the wheel.  Make sure to end up at the same spot if you also would like to discuss displacement (See variations.) 

Time measurement using a stopwatch:  Have two members of the class measure time using a stopwatch. The stopwatch feature on the iPad or other iDevice are particularly accessible for students with VI. This way the students can check each others’ measurements.  

  1. Have one student (and the teacher) record the distance and the time when you arrive.
  2. After returning to the room, calculate speed using the formula –  Speed = distance/ time
  3. Convert from minutes to seconds if the stopwatch utilized does not indicate seconds. 


NGSS Standards

Middle School – Forces and Interactions

PS2.A: Forces and Motion

By Laura Hospitál

Collage of measuring speed

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