Product Review of Playground Physics
Playground Physics is part of the New York Hall of Science’s (NYSCI) “Noticing Tools” suite of apps. Students use the iPad to shoot video of any motion they’d like, whether it’s their friends running around or playing on playground equipment, tennis balls flying across the room, or more controlled lab experiments. After tagging key frames in the video to create motion tracks and adjusting the scale for accurate measurements, the program then measures speed, position, direction, energy, and force. These measurements are displayed with meters and time-coded graphs along with the video.
Students can then apply their knowledge of velocity, force, and energy to add special effects to the video and stickers to the timeline. These can represent points of high or low speed, push or pull forces, and high kinetic or potential energy. Videos can then be saved and shared through any of the iPad’s sharing routes, Google Drive, or the app’s Teacher Hub feature.
Playground Physics is appropriate across the entire age spectrum of the science curriculum. The youngest learners (as early as kindergarten) can have fun tracing motion and watching the paths follow their videos, while older learners can work out the calculus to determine equations representing velocity, acceleration, and force.
The app can really fit into any science unit on motion. It can be an intro activity before diving into a more traditional treatment of the content, or it can be a complete project. Encourage learners to direct and film a video showing a variety of physical relationships, then use the app’s features to measure them and add relevant special effects. It’s always great to keep around for learners to explore during spare time between units or during test-related downtime.
It’s great for learning. Any time you can get learners moving their bodies to authentically teach concepts, they learn on a deep, intuitive level that transfers to skills outside the classroom. The learning can be very student-led: They choose how to move, how to film, how exact to be in their motion-tracking, and when to mark the timeline to represent physical concepts.
At some point, you’ll have to work to translate everything to paper with formulas and word problems, but the app’s ability to share videos makes that easy, too. Students can include their own creations in presentations that also include the written physics.
Overall User Consensus About the App
Seeing graphs of real-world motion is undoubtedly fascinating, and the clean, straightforward interface removes all obstacles to productive play. Kids will film videos and try to max out velocity and kinetic energy over and over again.
Curriculum and Instruction
Students are encouraged to experience and explore how their real-world actions are tied to abstract ideas such as force, velocity, and energy. The learning is intuitive, not only fact memorization.
For any technical issues, in-app help is clear, comprehensive, and immediately accessible. The New York Hall of Science’s website is full of great resources for making the app work in your classroom (or at home).