Gas station without pumps

2012 April 11

Physics simulations

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:46
Tags: , , , , ,

Someone recently pointed me to these Physics Simulations using the free gemoetry/algebra tool Geogebra.  It seems that Geogebra is a pretty good tool for creating 2D geometric drawings that can be animated, though I’ve not tried doing so myself. I don’t have a lot of use in the home-school physics teaching I’m doing for demo programs, and most of the Geogebra programs in this set are for optics or electromagnetism, and so part of next year’s course.

I wonder how Geogebra compares to Vpython for student-written physics programs, though.  Vpython is fairly simple to code (though I wish that it was integrated with Unum, so that all computations could be done with units—having to throw away the units for communicating with Vpython makes carrying around the units almost more trouble than they’re worth.

I had thought that we would do a lot of simulations of physical phenomena this year as part of the Physics C: Mechanics class, but it has not worked out that way.  The students (including me) often did not do the assigned computational problems.  Some of programs were useful, like the pendulum without the small-angle approximation, but a lot just simulated phenomena that were rather obvious from the formulæ, and so were not worth the trouble to write.  I had hoped for more examples like the pendulum, where simulation provided insight that was not available from analytic solutions.

Perhaps next year, when we do the Electricity and Magnetism half of the physics course, there will be more simulations worth doing.


  1. Have you tried Molecular Workbench ( It has been on my to-investigate list, so I would welcome any reviews/critiques of using it for teaching physics or nanoscale phenomena.

    Comment by miguelaznar — 2012 April 11 @ 22:06 | Reply

    • Thanks for the pointer. I’d not looked at Molecular Workbench. It looks like it is mainly used for rather lame simulations, but it may just be that the couple of examples I looked at were poorly done (from a pedagogical standpoint). I think that I agree with the commenters on Mark Guzdial’s blog that the main benefit of computational work in science education goes to those who do the programming, not those who watch the results.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 April 11 @ 22:26 | Reply

  2. […] physics, and was irritated by its inability to play nicely with units (see Units in physics and Physics simulations). It would be a fairly simple modification to Vpython to allow a “units” option for […]

    Pingback by Units in physics again | Gas station without pumps — 2013 August 4 @ 17:22 | Reply

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