Students will learn the meaning of an object's position, the difference between distance and displacement and some basic graphing of position vs. time.
When beginning a one dimensional problem, define a positive direction. The other direction is then taken to be negative. Traditionally, "positive" is taken to mean "to the right"; however, any definition of direction used consistently throughout the problem will yield the right answer.
Problem: An indecisive car goes 120 m North, then 30 m south then 60m North. What is the car's distance and displacement?
Distance is the total amount traveled. Thus distance = 120 + 30 + 60 m = 210 m
Displacement is the amount displaced from the starting position. Thus displacement = 120 - 30 + 60 m = 150 m.
Problem: An grader is timed to run 24 feet in 12 seconds, what is her speed in meters per second?
Watch this Explanation
Time for Practice
- Does the odometer reading in a car measure distance or displacement?
- Imagine a fox darting around in the woods for several hours. Can the displacement of the fox from his initial position ever be larger than the total distance he traveled? Explain.
- Your brother borrowed the scissors from your room and now you want to use them. Do you care about the distance the scissors have traveled or their displacement? Explain your answer.
- You’re trying to predict how long it’s going to take to get to Los Angeles for the long weekend. Do you care about the distance you’ll travel or your displacement? Explain your answer.
2. No, displacement is 'as the crow flies' so to speak, while distance takes into account the curves and turns that the fox takes.