As a physics teacher, I was immediately struck by their foresight of utilizing animations and simulations for education. I’m currently doing my best to use these in my large lecture class (it’s difficult with a common course that needs to be okayed by multiple instructors and faculty) by incorporating physics simulations as pre-lecture assignments. I’m hoping that by encouraging students to play in a virtual world, we can elicit both a greater curiosity (and thus motivation) as well as a deeper understanding of the underlying physics.
With sims, students can perform experiments before they learn the “correct” physics. Sims also open up the opportunity to do experiments that are impossible on Earth. What would happen if we tried this on the moon? What would happen if there really were no friction (an assumption that we physicists think makes problems easier but sometimes results in students being confused because the predictions made by our models don’t correspond to their real life experiences). By letting students experiment with changing the
parameters of the experiment, they can CREATE and test their OWN physical models instead of just adopting the ones told to them by an “expert”.
If you’d like to play with some science and math sims (do it!), one of my favorite resources is PHeT!