HOT TOPIC: Interactive Physics
Volume 3, Issue 14 - December 10, 2006

"The study of the inorganic world, physics is the study of the fundamental laws that govern matter, energy, space and time. Formerly a discipline requiring empirical observation that allowed scientists to infer laws of how the universe works, the industrial revolution and the subsequent digital age have made these laws much more quantifiable and easy to study. It is often considered the fundamental discipline od science because all other areas of science are somehow based in its principles, including the use of the scientific method.

Traditionally physics has been most accessible to those of us who innately understand mathematics. For those of us who don’t have that linear, logical orientation to the world, physics has always been harder to master. Rather than performing the discrete skills of math to understand these abstract concepts, visual representations and even interactive simulations can help a learner to internalize the “big picture” ideas that physics attempts to explain. In an age gone by we could not afford these luxuries for our students, but today it is available to everyone online.

There are a variety of Web technologies that help facilitate the understanding of physics. Consider the Shockwave-based demonstrations offered on the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s ippex site. Then again, the Japan Science and Technology Corporation does an excellent job of using Flash-based simulations on amusement park rides. And how about Funderstanding’s use of JAVA applets to let students test designs of roller coaster tracks both visually and numerically. There’s also QuickTime virtual reality and dynamic html applications that allow students to interact with rich, Web-based content.

As someone who struggled with the hard sciences early on in life, it amazes me how many ways I can now understand the laws of physics through the many tools we have at our disposal. By accommodating my orientation to learning, what once seemed difficult to understand now seems like common sense to me. This is the way it should be for all our students. I hope this week’s D12 will offer you a wealth of resources for making physics come alive in your classroom regardless of the grade levels and ages you teach!"

©2005 Walter McKenzie

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