Sliding and Stuttering

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Learners use a spring scale to drag an object such as a ceramic coffee cup along a table top or the floor. The spring scale allows them to measure the frictional force that exists between the moving cup and the surface it slides on. By modifying the bottom surface of the cup, learners can find out what kinds of surfaces generate more or less friction. After completing this activity, learners can further their investigation of friction by completing one of the related activities: "Does Contact Area Matter?" or "Does Weight Matter?"

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • spring scales, preferably having a 500 g capacity and 5-10 g accuracy, one per team of 2 to 4 students.
  • ceramic coffee mugs; one per team of 2-4 students (students can bring these from home, or they can be purchased from thrift stores)
  • scissors; one pair per team
  • tape (masking or wide transparent); one roll per team or one roll shared between two teams
  • string; about 30 cm per team
  • several beakers, yogurt containers, or paper cups filled with pebbles, nails, or pennies; you will need one such container for each team
  • lubricating materials (optional extension), such as household oil (e.g., WD40™), vegetable oil, waxed paper, talcum powder, graphite powder, liquid and/or bar soap
  • poster board and/or cardboard;
  • stiff glossy paper (e.g., cut from a folder or catalog cover);
  • glass (available at an art supply store or as scraps from a window replacement business);
  • carpet, linoleum, and/or ceramic tiles (samples or scraps from a flooring company);
  • thin plywood (scraps from a building supply store) or balsa wood (from a hobby shop);
  • metal (e.g., jar lids);
  • plastic (e.g., large margarine tub lids, or laminated cardboard)
  • Styrofoam™ (cut from the bottom of a disposable picnic plate);
  • sandpaper glued to heavy cardboard.


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
  • Physical Sciences
    • Energy
      • Work and Machines
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Hebrank, Mary R.

Source Collection

  • TeachEngineering


  • All rights reserved, Regents of the University of Colorado, 2013