Into the Digital Lab with Physics Software: From Exploring the Laws of Gravity to Testing out a New Space-Time Theory, High Students Can Do a Little Bit of Everything with These Physics Program. (Picks of the Month)

Article excerpt

Albert Einstein once said, "Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler." Simplifying physics concepts for students is certainly not an easy task. Fortunately, the programs we review here offer new options for studying and testing the laws that govern everything from the motion of objects in the universe to the structure of the atom. Using animation, video, and simulation exercises, students can manipulate sophisticated on-screen objects and environments in ways that give an immediate understanding of complex theories and principles.

We evaluated four programs--ranging from basic tutorials for home use to multi-disc packages designed to supplement the science curriculum--for their illustrative animation and multimedia elements, the quality of their interactive components (including opportunities for student experimentation), and their attention to core concepts in the high school science curriculum. Even Einstein would appreciate the ways these products simplify complex physics concepts without diluting them. He might suggest, though, as we do, that publishers include Web resources in future upgrades to these programs, adding even more information and resources for students to test out their theories and to guide their learning.

Crocodile Physics (Crocodile Clips Limited)

Crocodile Physics is a complete electronic physics package incorporating Absorb High School Physics, an electronic courseware package, and the Crocodile Physics interactive simulator, an on-screen simulation lab for experimentation. Absorb High School Physics courseware covers 18 chapters of physics information ranging from principles of basic measurement to optics. Interactive, animated demonstrations complement core physics concepts in each section of this e-book. Students can experiment with and manipulate many of the 90 example demonstrations to do such things as change projectile angles and velocity to measure distance.

The Crocodile simulator lets kids explore and test any of the core concepts discussed in the courseware. They can perform numerous activities and experiments using the rich simulator toolbars that visually organize options. For example, a books toolbar lets students toggle between chapters of Absorb courseware and activities, while the picture toolbar takes them to activities with basic circuits, switches, and batteries. Once they complete activities, students can graph the data collected from experiments, print the graph, and save the simulation for future reference. Additionally, the simulator makes optimal use of Flash technology, which allows kids to move and manipulate objects, e.g., students will like setting up circuits by connecting pictures of components to see if they work correctly. After selecting needed components, such as a battery, switch, or electric motor, users can then arrange and connect working parts. If connected correctly, lights on the circuit board illuminate or a trial motor will spin, complete with motor sounds.

While the broad scope of the package is somewhat intimidating and its menus complicated, Crocodile Physics is a very complete program that would work well with both high school and college students.

Physics by Pictures (Physics Academic Software)

This seemingly antiquated offering, distributed on two floppy disks and designed to run in DOS or Windows in a DOS shell, is an impressive program that surprised me with its high-quality graphics, animation, and instruction. Produced by Physicon, Ltd. of Russia, this comprehensive package teaches concepts in mechanics, optics, and electric and quantum mechanics. A key feature of Physics by Pictures is its potential for universal use on just about any computer--from Intel 286-based computers up.

Except for embedded video and animations, Physics by Pictures offers most of the features of the other programs reviewed here, including physics equations and historical background. …