This unit is designed to be taught at the end of a first-year physics class (such as AP Physics 1) and assumes general knowledge of mechanics. Alternatively, it can serve as an introductory unit for a second-year physics elective course in computational physics. Students learn to read, modify, and create simulations of physical systems using Visual Python (VPython) via the free online resource Glowscript. They learn the basics of VPython through analyzing and modifying code provided by the instructor to accomplish novel tasks. Students use simulations to explore systems that are too complex to solve with algebraic pencil and paper methods. Some systems examined are: harmonic oscillators with friction, three-body gravitational interactions, and freefall with air drag. Students learn to create and modify their own simulations to conduct controlled investigations and solve problems. For the final performance task, students create a simulation for a system of their choice, devise a scientific question, and then conduct a controlled experiment with their simulation to answer their question.
Fazio, Maxwell Vincent, "AP Physics: Modeling with Computer Simulations" (2019). Understanding by Design: Complete Collection. 450.
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Rationale_ Why Teach Students to Code Computer Simulations_.pdf (84 kB)
Sample Solution_ to Iterative Modeling Intro Activity.pdf (82 kB)
Animating Objects.pdf (90 kB)
Using a Simulation to Solve Problems_ Projectile Motion.pdf (190 kB)
LAB_ The Simple Harmonic Oscillator with Friction.pdf (115 kB)
Orbiting Bodies_ A Deeper Look at Vector Operations.pdf (69 kB)
LAB_ Freefall with Air Drag.pdf (56 kB)
Performance Task_ Your Own Computer Simulation.pdf (117 kB)