Friday, November 24, 2006

Interactive Physics

See comments for review.

1 comment:

Kate Reber said...

Jonassen discusses Interactive PhysicsTM in his chapter on Direct Manipulation Environments. Interactive PhysicsTM was developed by Design Simulation Technologies, According to Jonassen, Interactive PhysicsTM is software that provides opportunities for students to “design, test and illustrate their own problems in mechanics.” The programs allow students to set the conditions and then initiate experiments to test an innumerable number of theories in the physical sciences. The information provided at the Design Simulation Technologies website supports Jonassen’s claims.

In terms of pedagogical strategies, Interactive PhysicsTM is intended to be “discovery oriented” and “interactive.” The Design Simulation Technologies product site for Interactive PhysicsTM also claims that use of their software “develops inquiry skills.” The demo I downloaded included a number of already developed simulations. Some simlulations are run “as is” and the learning opportunity is in observing set phenomena. Other demos allowed me to change certain variables and when I ran the simulation, I was able to observe the changes in results. The demos covered a wide variety of topics in Physics including (but not limited to): gravity, acceleration, upward projectile motion, and resistance. Interactive PhysicsTM has recently expanded to cover topics like heat transfer, conservation of energy, and soundwaves. Although of the demos were straightforward, but the software gave me very little go on when it came to designing my own simulations. I would imagine the purchased copy includes more instructions on appropriate use and classroom strategies.

It has hard for me to envision a use of Interactive PhysicsTM outside of the high school science classrooms. I imagine you could use the software with general science classes and more basic studies of physics and it seems like it would not take a great deal to make the simulations appropriate for higher level physics study as well. I, myself, only have the most cursory knowledge of physics, since I took the most basic physics offered at my high school – a standard level summer school course – and seven years have gone by since I last thought about force and gravity. So I feel more than a little unsure of how this technology would best be put to use in a higher level physics classroom.

Despite my unfamiliarity with the content area, I found Interactive Physics TM to be relatively easy to use. As Design Simulation Technologies boasts, “if you can use a mouse, you can use Interactive Physics. There is no programming required.” It is easy to teach yourself to use it and there are also free tutorials available at the Design Simulation Technologies site. I would imagine that the actual software package includes its own manuals and there is tech support available. The company also makes teacher and student curriculum workbooks (with simulations already set-up) available. The workbooks were written by a professor from Stanford University, Dr. Paul Mitiguy, and are designed to blend into established physics curriculums.

The company claims that the software is Mac and PC compatible, but on the price list there is the following warning: “Macintosh customers should try a demo before purchasing to ensure OS compatibility (e.g., Mac OS X Tiger may not install classic mode).” This may raise some issues because many of the schools are using older Macintosh computers; though they run on OS X I believe it is an older version. I do not think they run OS X Tiger. I was not able to download the demo on my school computers (because they are locked), so I was not able to determine the applicability of the software in my school setting.

Pricing for the software depends on the school/classroom’s needs. The basic Interactive PhysicsTM software can cost anywhere from $249 (for a single user license, locked to one machine) to $10,495 (for up to 300 users). The user or school can also pay for upgrades which range in price from $50 to $4198. There are also some “add-ons” and supporting software and materials, like Homework Bundles and student workbooks, these range in price from $33 to $850. Additionally, all aspects of the software can be custom-developed and these prices are to be determined by the developer and the user.

Jonassen's Modeling with Technology: Mindtools for Conceptual Change, 3rd Edition.