What are Physics Illuminations?
An "Illumination" is a short, html-readable chunk of explanatory/exploratory material that addresses a specific topic, usually from a conceptual point of view. Illuminations may consist of hypertextual narrations and illustrations, text in combination with simulations, guided conceptual problem solutions, drills with immediate feedback, audio-visual sequences, or descriptions of simple experiments that can be done using readily available materials --- basically anything that can be used by students to help them understand the subject (in this case physics).
There are two key features of Illuminations. First, they should be active, in that the user is encouraged to respond to what he/she is reading or observing by answering questions, manipulating objects on screen, changing parameters and running them again, etc. Second, they should be confined to a single, narrowly defined topic so that the discussion or explanation is very brief and the number of options or variable parameters is strictly limited.
The Illuminations currently at this Web site consist of Java simulations packaged together with explanatory text. The Java code has been released under the open source GNU General Public License. The explanatory text is in the public domain. See the Physics Illuminations Project page for details and an invitation to participate.
How can they be used?
These Illuminations were designed primarily for student self-study and practice. Many of them keep a running score of the student's work during the session for self-assessment purposes. However, to encourage students to work with them, I assign them for homework and use a CGI script to record the scores. Under these circumstances I allow students to run each Illumination as many times as they like prior to the due date, and I take the highest score achieved, so long as they have worked on a minimum number of possible configurations (indicated when the "Go" button changes colors).
As can be seen in the table of contents to the left, currently available Illuminations fall in the areas of One- and Two-Dimensional Kinematics (including Graphical Analysis), Vectors, Dynamics, and Work/Energy. The coverage is somewhat spotty, as the site is still evolving. Don't expect them to be bug-free; I am a one-person, part-time programming shop. I welcome constructive criticism of my ideas and my implementation of them. Please let me know your opinions about them and especially experiences using them in classes. Email me at . Also, contact me if you have ideas for simulations in Kinematics or Dynamics that you would like to see implemented.