Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Free Physics Fun

There are lots of great physics simulations out there that are just plain fun to play with.

First up is Microsoft Physics Illustrator - Written at MIT this program allows you to create 2-D mechanical devices. It is a little limited, but it is fun to play with. The video below seems to be an early version. You can do everything you see in this video, but in some cases you do them a little differently. It was written for Tablet PC's but I've included a link for non-tablet users below. This looks like it would be great with a Smart Board. (mouse control isn't the greatest)

Line Rider - If you haven't played with this one yet you need to. I warn you however, that once you show it to your students they will play with it every time you turn your back. Basically you draw a hill and click run. A little guy riding a toboggan appears and sleds down your creation. Typically this doesn't turn out so well for the little guy. Some people have done some truly amazing stuff with this. You can use this to talk about conservation of energy and energy loss due to friction. I've also used it to talk about projectile motion and how roller coaster hills are shaped using this idea as well.

Sketchy Physics - This is a plugin for Google Sketch-Up. Sketch-Up is a program originally designed for architecture to create 3-D models. Someone has created a plugin that will allow you to give physics to your objects. It is really limited currently, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to play with. I've challenged my students to create a Rube Goldberg Machine using it, but none of them have taken me up on it yet.

PhET Simulations - You may also want to check out the PhET Simulations created by the University of Colorado. These are outstanding. For a more educational version of Line Rider you should check out the Energy Skate Park. It is outstanding. I may use this in class this year to test an idea. Eric Bergoust of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team wonders about holding a ski jumping competition on the Moon. With less gravity you should be able to soar higher and further. However, as any physics teacher would tell you, less gravity means you leave the jump at a lower speed. So, is there any benefit at all?

Michigan State Physics Standards:
Your mileage my vary, but these tools can be used to enhance instruction of the following standards (I'm sure I've missed some):
  • P2.2g, P4.3B, P4.3C, P4.2C, P4.2e, P4.2f
Additionally, it would be quite easy to use these to design activities for inquiry. Let the kids play and then point out to them that they had to learn and experiment to get to where they are.


Megan Golding said...

Excellent post! I didn't know about a number of these resources, so thank you for sharing them.

I like to use Line Rider, asking my students to find physics flaws. Perpetual motion, frictionless world, conservation of energy -- all are readily visible in that great game.

Another great, free resource are the videos posted by Dr. Altman at My favorite is the conservation of energy problem he solves using Wiley E. Coyote and Roadrunner!

Steve Dickie said...

Thanks. I spent the summer looking for cool stuff I could use since I couldn't talk my department chair into springing for Interactive Physics. Then we got a new media specialist and he bought it for me. So, I probably won't use Physics Illustrator or SketchyPhysics much myself. But, they are fun to play with.

I also enjoy Dr. Altman's videos.

Anonymous said...

After I downloaded sketchy physics, I unzipped the file by right clicking then clicking "extract all" WHen I got to the screen where I have to extract it to C:\Program Files\Google\Google Sketchup 6\Plugins , It asked for a password for every single file! WHat the heck do I do?