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ERIC Number: EJ985120
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-May
Pages: 11
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 1
ISSN: ISSN-0031-9120
On the Use of a Standard Spreadsheet to Model Physical Systems in School Teaching
Quale, Andreas
Physics Education, v47 n3 p355-365 May 2012
In the teaching of physics at upper secondary school level (K10-K12), the students are generally taught to solve problems analytically, i.e. using the dynamics describing a system (typically in the form of differential equations) to compute its evolution in time, e.g. the motion of a body along a straight line or in a plane. This reduces the scope of problems, i.e. the kind of problems that are within students' capabilities. To make the tasks mathematically solvable, one is restricted to very idealized situations; more realistic problems are too difficult (or even impossible) to handle analytically with the mathematical abilities that may be expected from students at this level. For instance, ordinary ballistic trajectories under the action of gravity, when air resistance is included, have been "out of reach"; in school textbooks such trajectories are generally assumed to take place in a vacuum. Another example is that according to Newton's law of universal gravitation satellites will in general move around a large central body in elliptical orbits, but the students can only deal with the special case where the orbit is circular, thus precluding (for example) a verification and discussion of Kepler's laws. It is shown that standard spreadsheet software offers a tool that can handle many such realistic situations in a uniform way, and display the results both numerically and graphically on a computer screen, quite independently of whether the formal description of the physical system itself is "mathematically tractable". The method employed, which is readily accessible to high school students, is to perform a numerical integration of the equations of motion, exploiting the spreadsheet's capability of successive iterations. The software is used to model and study motion of bodies in external force fields; specifically, ballistic trajectories in a homogeneous gravity field with air resistance and satellite motion in a centrally symmetric gravitational field. The article reports briefly on a study of the use of computers in the teaching of physics at K12 level in Norway, as part of an EU research project (for details, see the end of the article). It is demonstrated how the simulation software (the spreadsheet) is implemented in practice, for the systems that have been studied, and various responses of the students and teachers to this new and unfamiliar method for solving problems in physics are discussed. Some perspectives on the future of physics teaching at secondary school level are discussed. (Contains 5 tables and 5 figures.)
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Grade 12; Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Norway