Velocity, Acceleration, Speeding Up and Slowing Down

DISCLAIMER: This is a very mathy, math geek post but it also has value in demonstrating instructional strategies and multiple representations.

We all understand speed intuitively. Velocity is speed with a direction. Negative in this case does not indicate a lower value but simply which way an object is traveling. Both cars below are traveling at equivalent speeds.

The velocity can be graphed (the red curve below). Where the graph is above the x-axis (positive) the car is traveling to the right. Below is negative which indicates the car is traveling to the left. The 2 points on the x-axis indicate 0 velocity meaning the car stops (no speed). (I will address the blue line at the end of this post as to not clutter the essence of what is shown here for the lay people who are not math geeks.)

Below is an example of using instructional strategies to help make sense of the graph and of velocity, acceleration, speeding up and slowing down.

As stated previously, the points on the x-axis indicate 0 velocity – think STOP sign. As the car moves towards a stop sign it will slow down. When a car moves away from a stop sign it speeds up.

The concept and the graph analysis are challenging for many if not most students taking higher level math. This example shows how instructional strategies are not simply for students who struggle with math. Good instruction works for ALL students!

It is counterintuitive that when acceleration is negative the car can be speeding up. The rule of thumb is when acceleration and velocity share the same sign (+ or -) the object is speeding up. When the signs are different the object is slowing down. This rule is shown in the graph but the stop sign makes this more intuitive.