A simple activity is described which is appropriate for any class dealing with measurement. It introduces students to the important scientific process of mathematical modeling and online collaboration. Students, working in groups, determine the mass of a bolt indirectly by extrapolation from massing the bolt with one to five nuts on it and determining the equation of the line; the y-intercept being the mass of the bolt. Students gain experience with using a balance, graphing data, and analyzing results using algebraic skills. They calculate percent error after measuring the bolt’s mass directly and can compare this with the error limits from the least squares fit. Groups enter data into a web-based form and the data is examined by the class using Google Docs in a collaborative manner. After entering data in Google Docs, the students use an interactive Excel spreadsheet to compare their results to the best-fit line obtained by linear regression (pre-built into the spreadsheet for novices). In the spreadsheet, they further explore the model to gain an understanding and examine the influence of scatter (error) in the data and material density.

nuts_&_bolt.xls (140 kB)
Nuts and Bolts of Extrapolation