That's How the Kangaroo Bounces: A Biological Case Study to Teach Energy Concepts

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Department or Administrative Unit


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A growing number of Introductory Physics for Life Sciences courses have been developed to prepare biology, premedicine, and pre-health majors for cross-disciplinary connections between physical principles and biological systems. Many students find it challenging to apply idealized algebra-based general physics to more complex biological systems. A novel biological case study was developed to teach undergraduates to expand their energy transformation analysis of a simple system—a bouncing ball—to a more complex biological system of a kangaroo hopping. Similar to a ball, kangaroos transform elastic potential energy into kinetic energy to power their “bouncing.” Unlike the bouncing ball, kangaroos gain additional potential energy through metabolic processes. Students follow a sequence of guided tutorials that facilitate small-group learning as they evaluate quantitative data from video analysis with metabolic energy expenditures from literature to synthesize a real-world understanding of energy transformations. In this article, we describe learning progressions, practical tips for teaching, and lessons learned in this activity covering energy transformations.


This article was originally published in Journal of College Science Teaching. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Journal of College Science Teaching


National Science Teachers Association