Physics Explorer: One Body

By Eiser, Leslie | Technology & Learning, January 1992 | Go to article overview

Physics Explorer: One Body


Eiser, Leslie, Technology & Learning


Physics Explorer: One Body, part of the new Wings series of physics computer simulations (other titles available at present or in the near future include Two Bodies, Gravity, Waves, Ripple Tanks, AC/DC Circuits, Diffraction, and Harmonic Motion), is a series of laboratory set-ups addressing the concepts associated with one-body behavior. Divided into introductory exploration, core concept, and independent study activities - each with a set of accompanying activity sheets available in the manual and on the word processor file disk - most of these lab set-ups can be introduced into a classroom situation with a minimum of teacher preparation.

A single set-up appears on screen as a group of windows, each providing control over a different aspect of the simulation.

For example, introductory exploration activities have a control panel window, a data window, and a simulation model window visible at all times. Through the buttons in the control panel window, you can switch among the six exploration activities (Constant Motion; Accelerated Motion; Combined X, Y Motion; Circular Motion; Newton's Laws; and Energy).

In the data window, you can determine, modify, and monitor input and output variables. Numerical and/or graphical displays of parameters such as elapsed time, current position, or current velocity are updated constantly in this window during the running of the simulation. "Stop/Continue" icons (found in the model window) can be used to pause the simulation and freeze these data displays for recording purposes. Menu icons in the data window allow an experienced user to add or change the numerical and graphical display boxes, sliders, and labels. Built-in help routines are available through a question mark icon found on every menu.

The third window contains the model itself - a round "body" in the center of the window. Placed according to modifiable initial conditions, the object may be large or small, with or without an initial velocity, on a surface or suspended above a "floor." During the running of the simulation, the object will move around the screen in accordance with the laws of physics. Turning on the trace mode makes the object leave a trail of dots, adding considerably to the visual effectiveness of this window after several trial runs.

Icons used to control the simulation are located on a menu bar to the left of the model window. In addition to Go, Stop, Reset, and Continue, there are several useful tools including a ruler and a protractor. Input parameters can be modified directly on the model screen by using the Velocity, Force, Gravity, and Friction tools. Step-by-step directions contained in the activity sheets provide students not only with problems to solve, but also with enough information to make effective use of the various tools.

Once students have worked through the set-ups at the exploration and core concept levels, they are ready to use the program at the independent study level. At this level, the activity sheets no longer provide detailed directions, but simply pose interesting questions. It is up to the students to decide how to conduct the simulation, to determine which variables are the most important, and to invent a strategy for changing these variables in a meaningful way.

If Physics Explorer: One Body consisted only of these structured materials, it would be an excellent teaching tool, but it goes one big step further. Built into the Physics Explorer engine (the program that drives all the titles in the series) is a HyperCard-like scripting environment you can use to design your own set-ups, picking and choosing input and output parameters from the dozens supplied in the module. …

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