The Physics of Kawhi Leonard Incredible Buzzer Beater

It was the shot heard across Canada.  There were a lot of factors that made Kawhi’s buzzer beating basket so remarkable.  Aside from there being no time left on the clock and the weight of a sport’s nation on his shoulders, Kawhi had to overcome the backward momentum that is inherent in a ‘fadeaway’.  The purpose of a fadeway is to create space between the shooter and defender(s), which was a necessity for Kawhi as there were several seriously tall 76ers trying to screen his shot.

Over-coming the fadeway’s backwards momentum is no easy feat as it requires players to quickly calibrate in their minds the additional force that is required to successfully sink a basket, which for most mere mortals is not intuitive.  The shot is so challenging that only a handful of NBA basketball players have been able to reliably make this shot; and we’re talking the great players such as Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and of course Kawhi Leonard.

The video below provides an extreme example of backwards momentum with a soccer ball shot from the back of a truck

Investigating Kawhi Leonard’s shot in the lab

In addition to backwards momentum there were many additional physical factors at play such as the angle of the shot and gravity.  Investigating all these forces in a single activity would not be practical.  Fortunately most of these forces can be isolated and explored in the lab using PASCO sensors, software and/or equipment.

Exploring The fadeaway’s negative momentum using PASCO

PASCO offers an intriguing and affordable solution to model the dramatic effect of a fadeaway’s negative momentum on projectile distance.  PASCO’s mini launcher will consistently launch projectile balls the same horizontal distance for a set angle, assuming that the launcher is stationary.  If however, the launcher is placed on PASCO’s frictionless cart, the force of pulling the trigger will cause the cart to move backwards at a velocity that can be measured using the motion sensor.  Students will be surprised to see that even though the cart travels just a few centimeters, the overall projectile distance is significantly reduced.  This can be a very simple demonstration or an in-depth quantitative analysis that factors in the projectiles initial angle and velocity, the time of flight and even the k-constant of the spring.

Other Forces Affecting a Basketball Shot

Momentum and Explosions

When a basketball player takes a jump shot (as with a fadeway), the player and the ball could be viewed as 2-object linear system if you ignore other outside forces such as gravity.  What’s interesting, and perhaps not apparent to many students, is that the basketball will exert an equivalent force to the player as the player is exerting on the basketball (Newton’s 3rd Law).  Of course because of the very significant inertia (mass) difference between the two objects, the basketball will accelerate at a much fast rate than the player.  The player however will experience some acceleration in the opposite direction to that of the basketball.

Using Smart Carts to explore Momentum and Explosions (Free Lab)

The Wireless Smart Carts are equipped with an exploding plunger.  Multiple 250g bars can be added to one cart to skew the masses.  The velocities of both carts are measured using the cart’s internal position sensors enabling students to determine that momentum is conserved in a linear exploding system.

ME-1240 Smart Cart (Red)

ME-1241 Smart Cart (Blue)

ME-6757A Cart Mass (set of 2)

Newton’s Third Law

The player’s force on the basketball will be equal to the opposing force of the basketball onto the player.  Of course most students will consider this a ridiculous proposition until they prove this for themselves.

Using Smart Carts to explore Newton’s Third Law

There are several ways the carts can be used.  The simplest activity is for two students to have a tug-of-war using the internal force sensors of two Smart Carts and an elastic band as depicted in the image.  The equal but opposite forces will be confirmed, however in relation to a basketball player taking a shot, it has some shortcomings as the forces are pulling as oppose to pushing.

An equally simple activity, and one more relevant to the basketball shot scenario, is to collide two Smart Carts (with magnetic bumpers attached to their force sensors).  As both carts have equivalent masses, students may not be surprised to see the impact forces are identical.  However, what will probably surprise your students, are the force measurements that occur during a collision when one cart is weighed down with one or more 250g masses.  Using their intuition, most students will speculate that one of the carts will experience a much greater force than the other.  Of course, Newton’s 3rd Law will triumph and the forces will be identical.




What goes up must come down.  This is true of course for all earth bound objects (including basketballs) due to the ever present force of gravity.  Without gravity the trajectory of a basketball player’s shot would be straight to the ceiling of the arena, where most of the fans would be viewing the game.

Exploring the accelerating force of gravity using the Motion sensor

PASCO offers several technologies and techniques for measuring gravity including the Wireless Smart Gate and Picket Fence and the new Freefall apparatus.  Both of these techniques are accurate and precise means to measure gravity.  A third technique and one more appropriate for relating to a basketball shot is to measure the position of a vertically tossed ball and then have the software derive an acceleration graph from this data.  Statistics, including the Mean of the acceleration plot can be calculated by the software for the period when the ball was in freefall as shown in the graph.












The average acceleration in the free fall period is approximately -9.5 m/s/s



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Give a scientist a sensor…

(a reflection on hosting a pro-d event)

I recently hosted my first ever professional development event.  Usually, at the local level, there aren’t many opportunities for science types.  There just aren’t enough of us and we specialize so there isn’t much common talk beyond ‘how can we get the students to love and learn science more?’.  That is why I went out of comfort zone to host an event on sensors.  I’m still not an expert on my physics equipment from PASCO let along the sensors for the other branches but I thought it was worth the shot.

How do I do a pro-d event that engages the audience?  How could I hook the teachers in attendance?  The answer was easy.  Not for me to stand there and talk at them.  No!  They needed to do science!  They needed to use the sensors.  So, that’s what we did.

I set up several stations in my room.  One for physics, one for bio, one for chem and outside for earth science.  Each station required the use of an appropriate sensor (motion, CO2, pH and weather) and a task.  I gave them as little instruction as possible beyond how to use SPARKVue.  I wanted them to experience what their students would.

I expected only my department to show up.  That is still 13 people.  I had middle school and elementary teachers show up as well.  How would they do?  The hours flew by.  I didn’t need to worry about filling the time; we needed more.  There was a buzz that you don’t hear at staff meetings.  They were engaged.  They were loving it.  They were hooked on sensors.

What I loved most was the talk on how they could use it for their classes.  I wanted to get their ideas because they would know better than I.  Every teacher left with an idea on how the sensors could be used…if only we had more.
When the day was over I was asked to host more of these.  It was very easy to say yes.

The Joy of Lab Design

I’ve been a theorist and an experimentalist at different times throughout my career.  When at university, theory won out over experimental but now, as a teacher of high school, experimental easily wins.  There is nothing like watching students figure out problems, deduce scientific laws and test theories.  The old problem was the equipment.

What can I do with ticker-tape?

How responsive are the thermometers?

How reliable is the data?

How big are the errors?

Is it going to work?

But now, with my PASCO equipment, things are changing.  I’m more excited and so are my colleagues.  The students are picking up on that excitement too.  The labs we’ve done for decades are being updated.  However, the real joy is in designing new ones.

Since September I’ve created three new labs besides updating the other eight I do.  One for kinematics, one for gravity and one for momentum.  The momentum one is great because we were never able to do a reliable lab before.  Using the Smart Carts and Sparkvue the kids are designing safe barriers and analyzing crashes.  My favourite part of that lab is having the students figure out if movies are lying to you when they show a person getting shot, flying backwards through a window, and landing a few metres on the other side of it.  We can recreate the situation with the Smart Cart acting as the bullet and looking at the forces involved.

This screenshot represents a head-on collision between two smart carts.  They were released at different times to offset v-t graphs.

As I was working on the design of the labs and testing them out, my colleagues and administration stopped by.  They all wanted to see what I was up to.  They could see my excitement.  They were infected.  Two team members went away and started designing their own labs.  We are talking more, sharing more and the kids benefit from it.

We can ask deeper questions because the data is more reliable and relatable.  We can do so much with the carts and are figuring out more each time.  Labs in physics 12 were hard because of analysis to 2-D.  We are creating labs for them.    The goal is a least two new labs a month.  The labs are also not so cookie-cutter.  They don’t always have to be quantitative.  They are exploring more and, hopefully, learning more.

All of this is possible because of the Smart Carts, Sparkvue and the joy of lab design.


STAO 2018 Workshop Schedule

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Inquiry and Devices and Probes, oh my! Inquiry and data collection in the 21st Century Science Classroom – Clayton Ellis
2:00pm – 3:00pm Room: Montreal A
Take a journey through a 21st Century Science Classroom. Through the use of various PASCO sensors and integration of a variety of apps, an inquiry-based classroom becomes an engaging and authentic place to collect and share data.

Redesigning Labs For Inquiry – Melanie Ball
2:00pm – 3:00pm Room: Peel
Learn how to take old “cook-book” labs and redesign them to meet the needs of a diverse 21st century classroom. By making small, easy changes to existing labs to increase student engagement through student voice and allowing students to differentiate labs to their own level of learning. This promotes collaboration & communication in the class resulting in greater learning and retention of topics.

“Connecting” with Generation Z using sensor-based labs – John Fittler
3:30pm – 4:30pm Room: Windsor
Are you frustrated with the lack of accuracy in your science lab results? Using a variety of Pasco sensors and I-pads, we can motivate and utilize the skills of Generation Z during our lab periods. Interactive work stations will allow you to collect data with sensors used in chemistry, physics and biology. As well, we will examine how to get this program started in your classes with projects.

Friday, November 9, 2018

iPads, Datalogging and Deep Thinking in Science – Melanie Ball
12:30pm – 1:30pm Room: Paris
We will describe how we used TLLP funds to access PASCO datalogging sensors and then describe how we use them in the science, biology, chemistry and physics classroom to engage students and promote inquiry based learning. Participants will get to use the sensors and discuss best practices with our team. Classroom ready resources will also be shared.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

An inquiry approach to teaching kinematics using wireless technology and strategies for increasing time for hands-on learning – Rick DeBenedetti
11:00am – 12:00pm Room: Peel
A crowded curriculum and limited time often drives us toward teacher-directed activities. Participants will explore position, velocity and acceleration, using free software and sensor-equipped dynamics carts. In addition, strategies for increasing time for hands-on activities will be proposed and discussed as a group.

Just another day in the lab…

The bell rings.  Time to start class. 

We are doing another lab today and today we will use the new technology!  Cheers erupt from the class.

Yes, for today’s lab there will be no ticker tape.  No counting dots!  Welcome to SPARKvue!  Everybody turn on your Sparks and open the software. 

Mr. Grant?  Mine says it needs a software update.

Go ahead and do it.

It won’t let me.

Oh, right.  I go over and update.

Turn on your smart carts and connect them to SPARKvue.

Mine says it needs a firmware update.  Mine too.  And me!

Of course.  Update all using my phone as it is faster than trying to get the Sparks to do it for some reason.

Are we ready?  Allow the carts to roll down the ramp freely.  Take data of time, position and velocity.  Graph velocity vs time.  What sort of shape are we looking for?

Straight lines!

Good.  Go for it.

Mr. Grant.  We aren’t getting any data.

Is it recording?  The button changing from green to red and back again?


Let me try…hmm…you are right.  Let me see…Oh.  You switched it to manual recording.  Set it to periodic and try again.

Still nothing.

Let me see again.  You have a frequency of 1 Hz.  The cart is going too quickly to get data.  Change your frequency.  Is everybody else getting data?

Yes.  Sure.  My button isn’t responding.

Try a lighter touch.

Now it is.

Do around 50 runs.  Figure out which run is your best one and why.

Does the whole graph need to be straight?

What do you think?



Once you have your best run copy down the table and then graph it.  Your graph on paper should resemble the one on the Spark.

Do we need to copy down all the data?

How much do you have?

150 points.

<sigh>  What do you think?


Why not?

That is more than need to show the pattern?


Time to put the equipment away.  Please make sure it is turned off.  What did we think about the new way of doing the lab?

Updates were frustrating.


Took us a while to get used to it.

Fair enough.

Still way better than ticker tape though.


The View From a Small Town Physics Classroom

Let me paint you a picture. Not something physicists normally do but I’ll give it a shot.

I teach in a small town in BC. For most of my career it has been lower on the social-economic scale, a true blue-collar place but things are changing. More and more people are being pushed out of the big cities due to high house prices and ending up here where life is more laid back, more affordable, more idyllic?

Again, for most of my career the supplies I have had access to are the same supplies that came with the school when it was built…back in the 1950s. Trying to modernize my lab has been a challenge but just like the city, things are changing.

I’ve used PASCO products since my university days and have always found them to be intuitive and practical. When I had the chance, I purchased some of their GLX data loggers for demo purposes. I started to show the students the power of probeware and they yearned for more. Yes, I used yearn to describe students. I know, almost unheard of.

When I procured the funding to buy a class set of the GLXs after buying one a year for 5 years I was ecstatic. I called PASCO to order and was told that they were discontinued. I was bummed. What now? They told me about their new product, the Spark LX as a tablet data logger. I was intrigued. Many discussions happened, and I started to get on board. PASCO even took some of my suggestions about what I thought the logger should entail. After months of waiting they finally arrived; just in time for the start of a new school year.

I happily got to setting them all up and preparing their first interactions with the devices. I would use the Match-Graph software to give my physics students some hands-on real life to graph interactions. After a few hiccups of the airlinks needing firmware updates which my school computer wouldn’t allow I had the students head out into the school to test out the Spark and the software.

The looks we got from the other students and staff started as bewilderment. “What is his class up to now?” was heard more than once. My students didn’t even hear. They were too engaged to notice. The beginner graphs which were too hard mere seconds ago were now too easy. Harder graphs please. Harder and harder they went and the more competitive they got. “I’m addicted to this!” one student exclaimed. “I get it now.” Yelled another. They were hooked at first use.

I can’t wait to see how the next experiment goes. This is how technology should work in class. Relating physical experience to life experience to learning.

Glenn Grant has been teaching physics, math and science for 20 years in a small town called Mission, BC. 
“For most of my career I’ve been using equipment from the 1960s. I was the first person in my district to start using a Smart Board and then started getting into sensors about 10 years ago.  Since then I’ve cobbled together whatever I can to give my students access to something from the current century.  I believe that technology has a place in the classroom as a tool to further the learning.  Using the new PASCO equipment we can do labs 100 times a class and the discussion becomes more in-depth.  Why did they choose the data set they are using?  What makes that data “better”?  Can you replicate the graph on the board using the equipment.  It allows for more actual science than just content memorization. As I deepen my understanding of the equipment and its uses, I’ve been teaching the other members of my department and other teachers in the district.  I’m not an expert yet but I’m working on it.”

Going Wireless: Shifting Augustana’s First-years Labs

Written by: David King, University of Alberta – Augustana Campus

The Augustana Campus chemistry labs have traditionally been perfectly acceptable, but have yielded somewhat standard chemistry experiments with very typical analysis. As a satellite campus of the University of Alberta, located in Camrose, Alberta, we have strived to be almost an extension of our North Campus sibling, which has proved problematic within the constraints of a 100 kilometers distance. Recently, things have changed. Last summer, we diverged from this straightforward and customary path and decided to do something slightly different. Along with our newly renovated labs—that encourage thought and collaboration—we have fundamentally changed our first-year chemistry lab experiments, which mean that different analyzation techniques are needed. Gone are vitamin C titrations with Tang and tablets, replaced by extraction techniques and spectral analysis. Hand-held spectroscopes have been replaced with a fiber optic cable in a light emissions lab while also adding a light measurement for chemiluminescence.

Our previous vitamin C laboratory experiment was based in a traditional vein, where titrations were used to determine the vitamin C content in both Tang (a powdered orange drink very few students today have ever experienced) and 500mg vitamin C tablets. Being a “traditional” lab exercise meant that most students likely had seen this done in high school or had done this very titration themselves. Our goal was to create an experience where the students learn a new analytical technique by extracting vitamin C from a pepper, then determining the vitamin C concentration from a standard calibration curve on a PASCO Wireless Spectrometer. All of these skills are taught in the first week of this exercise. Week two is all about the inquisitive nature and enthusiasm of the first-year chemistry students. We wanted them to start critically thinking about what they read and whether or not it is scientifically sound, and we also wanted students to gain confidence in their research abilities right away, both in a laboratory setting and with data analysis. The idea is that students would formulate a research question and then create a hypothesis to test in the lab to add to their skills. Since the PASCO Wireless Spectrometers allow us to keep data sets, we could use the same calibration curves throughout the testing.

Student Myths Tested:

  • Different cooking methods affect on Vitamin C
  • Different storage methods affect on Vitamin C
  • Freshly squeezed vs. prepackaged juice
  • Over the counter vitamin C supplements vs. natural sources
  • Comparing vitamin C content of fruits and vegetables from different international origins

Light emissions lab experiments can be tedious at best. You need to constantly be looking through a hand-held spectroscope, which is exactly what we were asking our students to do. Also, we were looking at lights, flame tests and emission tubes with said spectroscopes. Throughout all of this, we weren’t asking the students to really do anything else, chemically speaking. Chemiluminescence and chromatography columns were two things we decided to add into our updated labs, along with the fiber optic cable accessory for the Wireless Spectrometers (as well as scaling back the spectroscope use). In the first part of our experiment, students would activate a glow stick and add the content to our 3D printed Light Calorimeter, then read the light emitted using the PASCO Wireless Light Sensor. From here, students would take the glow stick content and run it through a silica gel column to remove the chemical that activates the “glow”, then read the light emitted again. Peroxide and sodium salicylate would then be added to get the “glow” to return, and one last reading on SPARKvue would be taken.

By using this method, we wanted students to learn not only about columns and their ability to separate mixtures but also to get comfortable learning how to collect data using a sensor and a data logger (in this case an iPad). In the second part of our experiment, we still use traditional light emission tubes (Argon, Helium, etc.) where we use spectroscopes to obtain the emission spectrum lines. For the hydrogen tube, however, we set up the fiber optic cable accessory and the PASCO Wireless Spectrometer to get the most precise emission light spectrum we can. Ideally, the students learn both techniques but come away with the appreciation for the newer tech.

Changing these two experiments to incorporate PASCO equipment and using different techniques has allowed the students to get a more modern feel for newer types of equipment and techniques that are more advanced than your “standard chemistry type” experiments.

Since the wireless sensors are easily incorporated into our lab designs, we have set our sights on adding the brand new PASCO Wireless Colorimeter to our forensic based Escape Box Lab to give students an idea how an analysis of this type could be performed in the field.

We also have a unique laboratory based three-week course for non-science majors that utilizes the PASCO Wireless CO2 sensor in an interesting way. Our laboratory future is both bright and innovative, and more importantly, possible, with the tools from PASCO at our disposal.


PASCO products mentioned in this article:

Jason Pilots Ice Cream Webinar: June 13, 2018

I scream, you scream we all scream for ICE CREAM!! Everyone loves ice cream and kids love making it.

In this presentation we look at how you can teach some kinetic molecular theory, intermolecular forces and even heats of reaction/calorimetry while making ice cream.

This lesson has been done with grade 9 applied level classes as well as grade 11 University Prep Chemistry. It can easily be tailored for senior physics and chemistry.

Students get a chance to see how state of matter affects temperature (using the PASCO Wireless Temperature Sensor), in real time, and how adding salt to ice can drop the temperature even further even though it is changing into a liquid! We then do some simple calorimetry with different forms of food to get an idea of how much energy is stored in them.

Jason Pilot is currently the Department Head of Science at Sir Winston Churchill C&VI in Thunder Bay, ON. He has been teaching Science for 17 years. Jason focuses on the integration of technology into instruction and assessment incorporated into problem and inquiry based experiential learning.

Wireless Weather Sensor Webinar – April 25, 2018 Hosted by Bryan Ouellette

Bryan Ouellette is an Educator, Explorer and overall technology Enthusiast who enjoys discovering strategies that allow students the opportunity to investigate various concepts through personalized learning. With over a decade of classroom experience, District Lead Positions and Provincial Committees, Bryan is committed to transforming classrooms into an environment where learning happens willingly.

Bryan takes a look at the new PASCO Wireless Weather Sensor, how it works and how it can be used in classrooms. This journey will not only take you from the windy parts of the prolonged winter in New Brunswick, but also to depths of the abilities that this new PASCO Weather Sensor can provide.

The Wireless Weather Sensor with GPS is an all-in-one instrument for monitoring environmental conditions. A built-in anemometer as well as sensing elements for temperature, humidity, pressure, light, and GPS the sensor provides up to 17 different measurements that can be used individually or simultaneously. Use the sensor in logging mode with the optional Weather Vane Accessory for long-term monitoring, or use it as a hand-held instrument to study microclimates and record ambient conditions relevant to many biological and environmental phenomena. Conduct GIS/mapping experiments using the onboard GPS sensor in conjunction with any of the other available measurements. The new map display in PASCO’s SPARKvue software provides a way for students to analyze spatial data.


Products shown:

Kinematics for Senior Physics

Rick Debenedetti shares his experience with using a class set of Smart Carts to explore kinematics.  His presentation includes tips and demonstrations using SPARKvue software to introduce displacement, velocity and acceleration to a grade 11 physics class.

Learn how wireless technology allows students to explore authentic learning experiences within a limited time frame. Using wireless sensors means teachers can focus on the students rather than the equipment, and students are more likely to enjoy and learn from the activities, as they feel natural and are spontaneous.

This session demonstrates kinematics for senior physics.

The PASCO Smart Cart is the ultimate tool for studying kinematics, dynamics and more. It features built-in sensors that measure force, position, velocity, and 6 degrees of freedom in acceleration. Measurements can be made both on or off a dynamics track and transmit the data wirelessly over Bluetooth®.
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  • A big thanks for all the help and support you provided – I want to take some time to say a big thanks for all the help and support you provided me to select the best equipment in order to make the best possible use of the funds available. It is really exceptional that you happily connected with me multiple times even during the weekend and was always motivated to help. Please accept my big thanks for this.

    Gurpreet Sidhu | Physics Instructor | University College of North | The Pas, MB

  • Wireless Spectrometer Big Hit With Students – PASCO’s wireless spectrometer has been utilized very well by our earth science and physical science teachers. It’s an excellent piece of equipment and we have very much enjoyed its addition to enriching our classroom. It definitely brings students to a higher level of understanding wave interaction at a molecular level.

    Matt Tumbach | Secondary Instructional Technology Leader | Tommy Douglas Collegiate | Saskatoon, SK

  • Excellent Smart Cart – I thought the cart was excellent. The quick sampling rate for force will be very useful for momentum and collision labs we do. I’m recommending we include this in our order for next school year.

    Reed Jeffrey | Science Department Head | Upper Canada College | Toronto ON

  • Your lab equipment is of the highest quality and technical support is always there to help. During the 25 years we have used a wide array of lab equipment including computer interfacing. Your Pasco line has a high profile in our lab and will continue to do so far into the future.

    Bob Chin | Lab Technician | Kwantlen Polytechnic University | Surrey, BC

  • Datalogging Activities are Cross-Curricular

    Throughout the province of Nova Scotia, PASCO’s probeware technology has been merged with the rollout of the new P-6 curriculum. We chose a number of sensors for use with our project-based activities. Both the functionality and mobility of PASCO’s dataloggers enable students to collect authentic, real-world data, test their hypotheses and build knowledge.

    What we find important to a successful implementation and adoption by teachers is showing that the probes are not a ‘standalone technology’. The datalogging activities are very cross-curricular and can incorporate math, english, science, and geography outcomes.

    We are excited to learn more about PASCO’s new weather sensor because our students enjoy projects where they can share and compare their data with weather stations from around the world and be part of a global community.

    Mark Richards | Technology Integration Consultant | Annapolis Valley R.S.B. | Nova Scotia

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