The Distance vs. Displacement Concept Builder is an adjustable-size file that displays nicely on smart phones, on tablets such as the iPad, on Chromebooks, and on laptops and desktops. The size of the Concept Builder can be scaled to fit the device that it is displayed on. The compatibility with smart phones, iPads, other tablets, and Chromebooks make it a perfect tool for use in a 1:1 classroom.


Teaching Ideas and Suggestions:

This Concept Builder is intended for use in the middle to latter stages of a learning cycle on position, velocity, and acceleration. It makes for an exceptional formative assessment of student ability to determine the distance and the displacement of a multi-stage motion. We recommend using the activity only after students have been introduced to these terms and have had some guided practice at determining the values for a couple of multi-stage motions.

This Concept Builder was intended as an in-class activity. It includes 9 different situations organized into three different ability levels. Teachers using the Concept Builder with their classes should preview the activity (or view the Questions in the separate file) in order to judge which levels would be most appropriate for their students. There is no redundancy between the three levels; the questions included in each level are unique to that level. Our summary of the three levels is as follows:
  • Apprentice Level (easiest): Includes three situations involving a two-stage motion.
  • Master Level (moderate difficulty): Includes three situations involving a three-stage motion.
  • Wizard Level (most difficult): Includes four situations involving a four-stage motion.
In order to complete a level, a student must correctly analyze each situation at that level. If a student's analysis is incorrect, then the student will have to correctly analyze the same situation with different numerical values twice in order to successfully complete the level. This approach provides the student extra practice on situations for which they exhibited the most difficulty. As a student progresses through a level, a system of stars and other indicators are used to indicate progress on the level. A star is an indicator of correctly analyzing the situation. Once a star is earned, that situation is removed from the cue of situations to be analyzed. Each situation is color-coded with either a yellow or a red box. A red box indicates that the student has incorrectly analyzed the situation and will have to correctly analyze it twice before earning a star. A yellow box is an indicator that the situation must be correctly analyzed one time in order to earn a star. Once every situation at a level has been analyzed, the student earns a medal. The medal is displayed on the Main Menu. This system of stars and medals allows a teacher to easily check-off student progress or offer credit for completing assigned difficulty levels.

The most valuable (and most overlooked) aspect of this concept-building activity is the Help Me! feature. Each question group is accompanied by a Help page that discusses the details of the question. This Help feature transforms the activity from a question-answering activity into a concept-building activity. The student who takes the time to use the Help pages can be transformed from a guesser to a learner and from an unsure student to a confident student. The "meat and potatoes" of the Help pages are in the sections titled "How to Think About This Situation:" Students need to be encouraged by teachers to use the Help Me! button and to read this section of the page. A student that takes time to reflect upon how they are answering the question and how an expert would think about the situation can transform their naivete into expertise. 


Related Resources

There are numerous resources at The Physics Classroom website that serve as very complementary supports for the Distance vs. Displacement Concept Builder. These include:
  • Reading:
    The concepts of distance and displacment are discussed in Lesson 1 of the 1-D Kinematics Chapter of the Physics Classroom Tutorial. It is a perfect accompaniment to this Concept Builder. The page that precedes it on the topic of Vectors and Scalars is also recommended. 

    Scalars vs. Vectors

    Distance vs. Displacement

  • Minds On Physics the App:
    The Minds On Physics apps include a collection of interactive questioning modules that help learners assess their understanding of physics concepts and solidify those understandings by answering questions that require higher-order thinking. Assignments from the Kinematic Concepts module make for a great complement to this Interactive. Missions KC1 and KC2 from App #1 would be particularly useful accompaniments to this Concept Builder. They are best used in the middle to later stages of the learning cycle. Visit the Minds On Physics the App.

    Users may find that the App version of Minds On Physics works best on their devices. The App Version can be found at the Minds On Physics the App section of our website. The Kinematic Concepts module can be found on Part 1 of the six-part App series. Visit Minds On Physics the App.

  • Physics Interactives: Our Physics Interactives section includes a collection of interactive simulations that help students visualize concepts by interacting and observing the relationships between variables. The Vector Walk Interactive in the Kinematics section of the Physics Interactives makes an excellent complement to this activity. 

    Visit the Vector Walk Interactive.

  • Curriculum/Practice: Several Concept Development worksheets at the Curriculum Corner will be very useful in assisting students in cultivating their understanding, most notably ...

    Describing Motion Verbally with Distance and Displacement

    Visit the Curriculum Corner - Kinematics.

Additional resources and ideas for incorporating Distance versus Displacement into an instructional unit on Kinematics can be found at the Teacher Toolkits section of The Physics Classroom website.  Visit Teacher Toolkits.