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Peer Review

Physlet Problems: Newton's Laws

by Wolfgang Christian


Overall Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jun 11, 2002 by Physics
Overview: This is a collection of physlet activities on Newton's laws, consisting of both
qualitative and quantitative problems. It is part of a collection of web pages
with embedded java applets (href="">Physlets) that
can be used to develop on-line homework or tutorial applications. Each item
illustrated is part of an on-line homework problem collection distributed along
with a textbook written by target="_blank">Giancolli. Following is a short summary of each item in
the collection:

8.2.1:  A large block and small block are in contact, and are pushed
by an external force on a horizontal frictionless surface.  Masses are
given, and the student measures the acceleration from data collected from the
motion.  The force of contact between the blocks is calculated when the
external force is applied to the large block and to the small block.

8.2.2:  Force Concept Inventory-type problem where an external force
(thrust) is applied to a "floating satellite."

8.2.3:  A horizontal force presses a block against a vertical
wall.  The student measures the acceleration downward, and calculates the
external force.  The coefficient of friction is given.

8.2.4:  A small block slides on top of a large block.  Both
block slide on a frictionless surface.  The student measures the
accelerations of the large block to determine the coefficient of friction
between the blocks.

A.1:  Two equal and opposite external forces are applied to a block
at various distances from an axis of rotation.  The student is asked to
identify the physical and non-physical animations.

A2:  A wagon carries a block on its frictionless bed, and is pulled
to the right by a string.  The animation is not physical, and the student
is asked to explain why.

A3:  A simulation shows two masses connected by a string which is
draped over a pulley.  The ratio of the masses may be specified by the
student.  A series of questions is asked that relate to motions observed
when the mass ratios are varied.

A4:  A woman in an elevator is standing on bathroom scales when the
cable breaks ...

A5:  Similar to 8.2.3

A6:  Similar to 8.2.3 (non-constant velocity).

A7:  A woman in an elevator stands on bathroom scales as it moves up
at constant velocity.

A8:  Similar to 8.2.2, but with a momentary push.

Learning Goals: Ability to apply Newton's laws to many different types of problems. Analyze
details of situations involving applications of force.
Target Student Population: High School, Lower Level Undergraduate.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Algebra and kinematics, Newton's Laws.
Type of Material: Web pages with java applets.
Recommended Uses: Homework, Just in Time Teaching quizzes, Lecture Demo.
Technical Requirements: Physlets do not work on MacIntosh computers.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The content is diverse. The problems in this set focus on core aspects relating
to Newton's laws of motion. There are initially four different problems then an
additional eight. These cover topics like friction, Atwoods machine,
elevators, etc. A user may pick and choose items or have students work all
items. Several of the items are very useful. The items cover many of the types
of problems that are often taught during first semester introductory physics
Concerns: It can be unclear what the initial conditions are using physlets. The answers
are given on the pages shown, so to be used as an assignment the pages need to
be rewritten.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths: This material is simple for students to use, allowing them to focus on learning
the physics. Students will get out what they put into these. Instructors can
customize questions of their own for each of the problems. This means that the
items can have a very specific impact on learning.

Well-written physlet problems require students to actively engage with the
problem concepts. All problems in this collection are written in this way.

Concerns: Some of the items do not make it clear what the simulation is about. Initial
conditions often must be presumed (velocity is zero, or non-zero but
constant...before the start of the problem). This could lead to confusion on
some of the items. Instructors will find it beneficial to include their own
assignments with these items to get the most out of them.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: These simulations are very easy to use. Students need to be able to read, point
and click. The problems use simple icons and shapes to communicate the target
concepts. Data is collected from the animations in an intuitive way.
Concerns: There can be a significant learning curve and effort for instructors who want to
display these items from there own server