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Peer Review

Physics Illuminations



Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jan 21, 2007 by Physics
Overview: This is a comprehensive set of online tutorials and self-tests covering the fundamental topics of mechanics. Topics include vectors, 1D and 2D kinematics, Forces and Dynamics, and Work and Energy (under construction). These tutorials provide introductions to the concepts, illustrated by animations and graphs. Quantitative measurements can be taken as well. Instructions and text help explain the purpose of each simulation, how it works, and the physics involved. The user is able to enter responses to specific questions and receive immediate confirmation of the answer. Many demonstrations are provided as well.
Type of Material: Tutorials with interactive Java simulations
Recommended Uses: Tutorial, Self-test, and Drill and Practice.
Technical Requirements: Standard web browser with Sun Java Plug-in version 1.4 or later.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Provide an introduction and reinforce conceptual learning of students in introductory mechanics, and have them test their understanding.
Target Student Population: Introductory physics classes in high school and college. Some sections may be suitable for physical science classes.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Students should have a general introduction to mechanics. This material does not constitute a complete course. Math through algebra and trigonometry is required for some of this material. Calculus is not required.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: These excellent tutorials cover some of the most fundamental, and for many students difficult, aspects of introductory mechanics. Having this online resource allows students to work at their own pace outside of class, covering topics that they are having the most difficulty understanding. They are able to visualize the concepts in many different formats such as position, velocity, acceleration, and energy graphs, animated pictures, motion diagrams, and force diagrams. Students are asked to interpret graphs, diagrams, and physical situations.

The author uses a spiral approach in his learning materials. For example, kinematics is discussed exclusively in the first two sections but also appears later in the dynamics section.

Concerns: It is sometimes difficult to make accurate measurements to obtain the answers to quantitative questions. The scales are a little obscure and can result in an incorrect answer.

The "Work and Energy" illumination is still under construction.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The site is very comprehensive, thereby allowing an instructor to use it for several weeks or more of a typical first semester course. An instructor could use this site exclusively for Mechanics, so that searching for other sites is not needed. It is designed so the student can proceed at a slow, steady pace. It may be used as an in-class activity or for homework.

This material is interactive and provides immediate feedback to students. The activities that the students have to perform range from fairly simple and straight forward to very challenging, thus making them useful for a wide range of student background and skills. It is designed so a student can proceed at a slow, steady pace if needed. It may be used as an in-class activity or for homework.

The connection between the tutorial materials and the student activities, using the same interface and language, creates a coherent and extensive resource. However, because of the modular nature of the exercises, single exercises or illustrations can be used stand-alone very effectively. This makes these resources very flexible in their instructional uses.

The fact that this program allows instructors to track the student usage and grades for these exercises is important. Students can be motivated by having their use of this material be a part of their grades.

Concerns: The responses to some of the questions only inform the student as to weather or not the answer is correct. There is no feedback to help the student determine the cause of their mistake. As a result, the student will need to seek help from the instuctor or some other resource.

Some of the illuminations are a bit repetitive. Although this is important for learning, some students might not appreciate it.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The interface to the illuminations is simple and straight forward.

Instructions and tips for running the applets and solving the problems are avialable on the pages. Each section starts with a brief description of that particular topic along with a question mark (?) tab to click on if one has questions on how to proceed. Most sections have a separate window at the bottom that lists all the physics concepts and definitions.

< The author provides a link to download the Sun Java Plug-in (J2SE JRE) required for running these simulations.

Concerns: Students may find the graphics somewhat bland.

Some of the simulations in the Dynamics and Work & Energy sections are still under construction.

Other Issues and Comments: Reviews of some of the individual illuminations are available on MERLOT, although some are for earlier versions of the resources.