The Physics of Walking: Lesson Plan

Explore the field of biomechanics and learn how motion capture technology is used to study the how and why of how we move. Then, identify the forces that act on our feet and legs when we walk or run.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • Phy.1.2.1 — Analyze forces and systems of forces graphically and numerically using vectors, graphs and calculations. 
  • Phy.1.2.2 — Analyze systems of forces in one dimension and two dimensions using free body diagrams. 
  • Phy.1.2.4 — Explain the effects of forces (including weight, normal, tension and friction) on objects.

Learning Outcomes

Time Allotment Needed: 3 days (block schedule)

  • Students will evaluate how biomechanics are being used to study how people move. 
  • Students will analyze the forces involved in running and walking.

Essential Questions

  1. What is biomechanics? 
  2. What are the applications in healthcare for biomechanics research? 
  3. What are the forces that act on the foot and leg when walking or running?

Essential Vocabulary

  • Biomechanics 
  • Force 
  • Impulse 
  • Sensor 
  • Vector

Engage

Students will view the NC Science Now video Just Moving Along. After viewing the video, students should answer the following questions. They can then discuss their answers with a partner or in small groups.

  1. In what ways can biomechanical engineers improve quality of life for people? 
  2. What is the purpose of the sensor plate used in the experimental setup? 
  3. What are some ways the results from this study can be used?

Explore

Students will view the NC Science Now video A Model Foot. After viewing the video, students will work collaboratively in small groups to identify the forces on the foot and leg during walking. Have the students draw a free body diagram showing the vector forces. They can then search on the internet for other free body diagram examples and compare and contrast their diagram with those found online, adding or changing forces as needed. 

Students may want to refer to a diagram detailing the anatomy of the foot such as this one when drawing their free body diagram:

Health Life Media — Foot Anatomy

Explain

Students will explore the basic physics behind walking, and the design and engineering of shoes to accommodate different gaits by completing this lab activity.

Extend

Students will read the Reporter’s Blog “Creating Happy Feet.” They should try all of the recommended activities listed in the blog article, and then select one and write a paragraph explaining why this exercise is effective in stretching tired feet, based on what they have learned about foot anatomy and forces on the feet and legs when walking or running.

Additional Resources:

PBS LearningMedia — Biomechanical Engineering 
PBS Learning Media — Teachable Moment: Biomechanics 
Harvard — Biomechanics of Footstrikes 
Schoolphysics.co — Barefoot Running 

Evaluate

Students will prepare a symposium presentation to summarize what they have learned during the lesson. They may choose any format for their presentation, and presentation content should include:

  • A description of the field of biomechanics and some of its applications. 
  • A demonstration of the forces that act on the foot and/or leg when walking—Students may use the free body diagram their group created as a visual or use a classmate as a model to show the forces in action. 
  • A sample calculation from the “Shoes Under Pressure” lab activity.