This week, one of our physics teachers requested that a physics simulation site be unblocked by our web filter. The site is Paul Falstad’s Math and Physics Applets, and it’s classified as a “personal page” and therefore blocked by the filter. Our teachers can request that sites be unblocked. Those requests go to a panel of seven people who evaluate the site based on our filtering criteria, and make a decision. In this case, the decision was to continue blocking the site. In addition to the applets, which provide math and physics demonstrations of various principles, there’s some humor on the site that’s inappropriate for school. The teacher can request to have individual pages within the site unblocked, but because of the way the site’s organized, this will become a tedious process.
In the end, I suggested that he save the applets from the site and run them on the local computer. It’s more work for him, but it will at least give him access to the things he needs.
Today, I discovered the Physics Education Technology (PhET) resource at the University of Colorado. This site has dozens of simulations for math and physics that cover many of the same topics as Paul’s applets. These simulations are written in Java, so they’ll run on any platform. Access to them is free, and there is a database of supporting materials, lesson plans, and activity ideas for teachers to use. In addition, you can easily download and install all of the simulations on your computer, so you don’t need to worry about web filters (though the site is not blocked).
The site is not without humor, either. In the trajectory simulation, you can throw relatively common items (baseballs, bowling balls, pumpkins) or the more exciting pianos and Buicks. When studying magnetism and electricity, you can use the “John Travoltage” simulation to see how static electricity works.
With support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Kavli Operating Institute, and the National Science Foundation, the team continues to develop new tools and refine old ones. In the latest update (January, 2007), sixteen simulations were added or updated. This is a wonderful resource for science teachers, but it’s also a lot of fun for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of how the world works.