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MIPRO 2017, May 22- 26, 2017, Opatija, Croatia

Influence of Accuracy of Simulations to the

Physics Education

R. Repnik*, **, G. Nemec* and M. Krasna*, ***

* Faculty on Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
Association for Technical Culture of SIovenia, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Faculty on Arts, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia



Abstract - Regular discussion in the LLL (Life Long cases this is not possible (if s time consuming, not
Learning) courses for the teachers in primary and secondary repeatable etc.). In such situations the physics teacher
education gives us insight into their oppinion. We discovered prepare school experiments, where he or she demonstrate
that teachers of primary and secondary education in our the physics phenomena to the students in order to analyze
country believe that the highest retention of knowledge and the influences of specific factors on the experiment
understanding of mechanics can be achieved in the real world
dynamic. The experiment should not be substituted but
environment (in lab and outdoor) observing the natural
supplemented with ICT tools, e.g. simulations [4]. In frame
physics phenomena and repeating the experiments that led to
of Didactics of Physics we teach the university students that
the physics laws. We know that this is just partially true. It is
by following the strategy of introducing the simulation into
our belief that simulations using as supplement to real
the theaching of physics they need first to execute the real
laboratory experiments increase students' understanding of
mechanics. Physical processes are often beyond the capability
experiment and secondly they have to show the same
of humans to observe them in schools. Teaching students we
physics experiment in the simulation environment and
have seen that adequate understanding using lab experiments compare the results. The students can perhaps observe the
is difficult even in the simplest mechanic phenomena (ball differences which arising ither from measurement errors or
roling on the slope). Students were unable to comprehand the inaccuracy of simulations. If the difference is too great, the
full concept of the physics phenomena from the experiment trust of students in simulation can not be achieved. If the
unless we teach them theory first. In this article, we explain results match, the trust in simulation is present and we can
how we used simulations that allow students to adjust the use the simulation in new physics situations that we can not
experiments to their comprehantion abilities. We compared access with real experiment. The accuracy of the simulation
the accuracy of three different freeware simulations to the is obviously crucial.
highly accurate proprietary one. We have also analyzed the
the observed simulation software to be customized to the In this paper we have limit ourselves to the free
accurate transformation of 3D world experiment to the 2D accessible simulation software: Algodoo [5], Step [6] and
simulated presentation (e.g. the sphere and the cylinder Physon [7]. They all allow a virtual space where we are free
cross-section look equal in 2D screen but the physics to move and insert arbitrary objects. Movement and
background is different). interaction(s) between objects obey the physical laws. Such
software is called Physics sandbox. Physical engine of the
simulations assure accurate objects' interactions based on
I. INTRODUCTION mathematical modeled of physical laws. The virtual space
The use of computers in physics has brought many new where the objects are inserted is named the interactive
opportunities for demonstration of physical phenomena. simulation environment. A common feature of all
Computers are able to present static objects and dynamic simulation environments is a transformation between 3D
phenomena in different ways depending on the required space into the 2D projection (on screen). Simulation
complexity. Presentation can be from simple 2D images on environments are build by inserting objects (blocks,
the transparencies (PPT), to the videos or simulations of3D circuits, any polygonal wire, springs, and other building
interactive models. Computers can control the experiments blocks), which can be combined to the complex structures,
and/or acquire measurements. When the experiment of such as a trolley with the engine.
specific physical phenomena can not be done in the lab or
The software simulations can be used in teaching
we wish to enhance its clarity we can use computer's
physics on different occasions and educational topics, both
simulations. Simulations allow us to change parameters and
in elementary school (primary school), [8] and high school
observe their interactive physics response. On the internet,
(secondary school). [9] The potential user can use our
there are numerous simulations, which are ready for use in
experience of the three public available software simulation
the classroom [1]. Each of them is ready to treat specific
and use them in the classroom.
physical phenomena, or their part. However, the described
simulations can not be used to treat all physical phenomena
[2] [3]. In the teaching of physics the observation of the real
physical phenomena ist of great importance, but in some

A. Application of the computer in the physics education C. Possibilities of the application of simultation in the
The experimental observation of the phenomenon can education
not be replaced by any other method, because it enables the We estimated that the teaching methods where
control of conditions for the observation of the physical simulation environments can be used are as following [4]
phenomenon [4] [10] [11]. Various reasons lead to the fact [10]:
that the experimental observations in practice are not
always possible. Some of the reasons are listed below [2]
• Demonstration,
[12]: • Method of written and graphic work,
• Practical work - laboratory work.
• Research subject is too big or too small,
• The observed process is too fast for human, Simulation can be used in all phases of education, from
• Financial expenses are too high, introductory demonstrations, to introducing the new
concepts at new content teaching, and to verify acquired
• Experiments are dangerous,
• The school experimental environment is typically
limited to specific place or area properties, (we
cannot test the experiment on other planets/moons D. Execution of the experiment is followed by the
with different gravitational constant). preparation of the simultation
We chose to show a simple experiment: the calibration
B. Strategy of the simulation of the spring [13]. Accessories that are needed in the
experiment: a spring, a ruler, and a variety of weights.
Three main factors occurred in the treatment of the
Students hung a roler next spring (for measuring the
concept of strategy of the simulation: real system, model,
distace). With the addition of the weights (10 g) to the
and simulation. The real system or part of the real world
spring, they record the extension of the spring. Acquired
is what we want to present in a graphic way. The model is
data are later used to draw a graph and the graph can be
a theoretical description of the real system, which must be
used to see the relationship between weight (or even better,
precise enough to explain the crucial behavior of the real
the force) and elongation for any given weight (Figure 1).
system. The model can be used to test the theory too.
Expected is linear dependency, if we not exceed the limit
Modeling is the process of adequate describing the
elastic values. The result of the calibration is the
relationship between the model and the real system.
determination of the spring constant in N/m.
Simulation can be defined as an abstract model, which is
implemented as a computer program. Simulation is a
demonstrational computer model in which the phenomena
Spl'emlnjanjfl mas. utd,:
dynamics is calculated and presented in time steps (the 0.2

certain time increments) [10]. �maSS[kgl 2 @JSD<.:3kgl

One of the main advantages of using simulations in

teaching of physics is that students can freely change the
parameters of the simulation. Setting the value of the
simulation's parameters the entire course of the simulation
changes and that enables verification of the various
hypotheses. The simulation strategy in education is
particularly suitable for analysing the functional 1'"
interaction(s) between the parts of the complex system. In
the physics teaching the experiment is indispensable, but is
does not allow us to control all the environmental or inter­
object influences. Therefore, it is wise to add the
simulations to the experiment for better students'
understanding of underlaying concepts of physics
phenomena. Simulations in the education allows the Figure I: Simple test for calibration of the spring in Step.
teacher can overcome some real world constraints and
explain the behaviour of physics phenomena in the
articifialy changed environments. The simulation is not
suitable for everything therefore should be logically
included to the educational processes. The teacher should In this section, we present the details of the specific
be trained in the use of simulation strategy and should simulation software and Simulation environment. We also
encourage the discussion during the use of simulation. The introduce the basic characteristics of the physical engine.
students could use the simulations for understanding the
background of the physics phenomena and understand why A. Algodoo
some differences between simulation and real world Simulation environment allows adding the basic objects
phenomena can occur [2] [10]. to the simulated world: blocks, rings, ropes, and springs.
From individual basic objects, we built complex
(composite) structures, e.g. a trolley with the engine.
Various physical properties can be modifyed for any
individual building part; we also can change the properties

of the environment. When the simulation is ready to run, • Particles, spring damping, various forces,
we can observe a static or dynamic behavior of each object, gravitational force, gravitational and Coulomb
influenced by other objects in its vicinity and surrounding. force can be added to the simulated model.
• Rigid bodies can be added.
Algodoo simulate mechanical systems defined by
Newton's equations. This does not begin with a form of
• Collision of the bodies can be detected.
Newton's laws, from which to get associated differential • Soft bodies, which can deform and consist of
equations that could be used for discreet method of particles - connected with springs, can be created.
calculation. The equations are written in the Lagrange • Molecular dynamics is based on the Lennard-lones
formulation of mechanics. Lagrange's formulation uses a potential. This allows sirnulations of gas and liquid,
discrete time and position format. Lagrange's formulae condensation and evaporation, and the calculation
enables us to use the differences in intervals to walk of macroscopic liquids.
through the system of equations. This approach has been • Measurement errors (i.e. 1.2 ± 0.3) for any property
used to describe particles' system, a system of rigid bodies can be specified. Calculations of all values are done
with the extremities and motors, collisions, contacts, dry using statistical formulas.
friction, viscous incompressible fluids, and elastic-plastic • There are many differential solvers which user can
materials. To stabilize the extreme edge, control, and choose. Solver component in the simulation
physical engine, the calculations used framework SPOOK environment allows stepwise calculation. Most of
[14]. At each timeframe, simulation environment calculates them are based on GSL-library [16].
a large system of equations, which is comparable in size to • Errors of calculation component solver are added
the number of extreme edge and contacts of bodies. to those made by the user.
The constraints of the software simultation are the
C. Physion
An online community maintains the project. Therefore,
The simulation runs at the time interval of 1/60 sec a number of examples, tutorials and videos can be found in
(60 Hz). It is not possible to model the events that the forum or in the YouTube. Physionet offers the
are happening in a shorter time interval. It is possibility of inserting program code in lavaScript.
therefore not advisable to generate simulations for
the bodies that are less than a centimeter wide. Physionet uses many open-source technologies and is
based on a physical engine Box2D library [17]. Physical
When the simulation is running, it calculates a engines that are designed primarily for use in computer
large system of equations using a numerical games are focus on fast and fluid calculations. That means
method. In order to ensure smooth interactive heavy use of fast approximations that can generate
simulation events the fast approximations are used. significant differences between physics theory and real
Unfortunately, this can lead to the differences world. Our hypotesis is that these approximations will not
between simulated results and the physics theory. significantly influence the results for the school's
We must be aware that the simulation software is educational use. Based on the capabilities of the library
complex and may contain bugs or faults in the physical engine we discovered that we can simulate in
program. Physion similar simulation as in the previous two
simulation environments.
Algodoo authors' claim that they are trying to make
the simulation software to conduct physical
simulations at a high level, but legally there is no
assurance for this. We know that the tests we have performed (more our
tests are available in [18]) are not suitable for a general
B. Step review but we are trying to make at least elementary
impartial review, presented in the following table (Table 1).
Simulation software is available under GNU GPLv2
open access license [15]. The design of the simulations was
Table I Conclusion and comparison of experiencs in the moddeling and
done in the following steps: we add the body and the force
simulations' use.
of gravity to the simulated model. By pressing the button
"Simulate" the simulation started and bodies started to Algodoo Step Physion
move according to the calculated physical laws. Bodies and grid and
Accurate modeling attributes of the
forces attributes can be changed even during the simulation grid attributes of
of the objects objects
the objests
and they are immediately used in the calculations.
Editing and
with the
Simulation software Step uses software library modifying of the
use of
objects(size, yes yes
StepCore for physical engine. This engine is used inside the software
simulation environment for all simulation calculations tools
(even the compex one) but can also be used in our own Composition of
software for which necessary programming skills are the complex yes no yes
required. The design of the library, which can be objects
disseminated and adjusted, has enabled us to implement some actions
Size of history of
flawless are not recorded flawless
precise simulations. Capabilities of the physical engine and undo.
in the history
the simulation environment are:

and cannot be ma = -bv- kx. (1)
Software stability yes often halts yes
Addition of the
We rewrite the (1) by replacing the velocity v with dxjdt
objects during the and acceleration a with d2xjdt2 and get
yes no yes
calculations d2x dx
m-= -b--kx. (2)
dt2 dt
A. Testing the quantitative credibility of the simulation
environments The solution of the equation is the following
In high school physics, a significant increase of the need
for quantitative use of simulations emerges. It is therefore x(t) = xme-bt/2m cos(cu't + <p), (3)
important that the measured results from the experiments
and calculated results from the simulations are comparable. where xm is the starting amplitude and cu' angular
For the quantitative credibility test of simulation
frequency of damped oscillation. The angular frequency is
environments, we prepared the same simulation in all three
defined with the following equation:
simulation environments and compared the results with the
model that we have created with the reference software
Berkeley Madonna. b2
cu' = (4)
m 4m2•
For each simulation environment, we prepare the equal
model and start the simulation with the same parameters. Equation (3) implies that because of the dampening
We have used a damped oscillation model for the test. In coefficient b the amplitude Xm exponentialy decrease with
the simulations, we allow the plotting of graphs (positionI time t. The angular frequency cu' also decrease because of
time). Calculated data from each simulation were compared (4). The physical unit for the b is [N s jm] or [kgjs].
with the data we have obtained by use of the reference
software Berkeley Madonna.
C. Preparation of the simulations
We can compare the data if we create the similar
B. Physics background of damped oscillation
conditions for all three models and simulations. All three
The oscillation is damped, when another body (e.g. simulations work on the numeric step-by-step calculations.
surrounding media), which inhibits dampening (presence For comparison, we set the time step 0.02 (or 50 Hz or 50
of the frictional force, proportional to the velocity), calculations per second) to calculate the values. With this
influences the body that is swinging [19]. The block with setup, we obtained the same number of data from each
mass m were fixed with a spring coefficient k and the own simulations. In the design of the model we use the block
damping coefficient b (Figure 2). We observe the damped with the mass m = 1 kg, the spring coefficient of
oscillations due to springs own damping coefficient. k = 35 NI m and springs own damping coefficient
Potential energy (consequently the kinetic energy) of the b = 0.5 kgI s. We tried to standardize the maximum
spring oscillation transmites to the internal energy of the amplitude Xm as much as possible. The duration of the
spring. simulation was 10 seconds.

D. Preparation of the simulations - A 19odoo

We prepared the simulation in Algodoo as seen in the
Figure 3. We delete the lower surface and added a new one
to forms a ceiling. We secure the spring to the block and on
the ceiling. The block size was set on 0.4 m on all sides,
and its weight to 0.5 kg. Block was placed (hanged) at a
distance of 1 m from the ceiling. The spring constant was
set on 35 NI m. In Algodoo we had some problems by
defining the b directly, so we defined the dumping ratio t;,
which we calculated for given data b=0.5 Ns/m, m=0.5 kg
and k=35 N/m with [19]:

t; = (5)
Figure 2: The model used for the dumped oscillation. 2,;:m;('
Due to damping properties of the spring the oscillating
system was damped with a force F d = -bv, where the b is
the damping coefficient and the v is the velocity of
movement of the block. The block were operated by a force
of the spring Fvz = -kx (the x denotes the extension of the
spring) and the force of gravity Fg. We ommit the influence
od the Fg on the movement because it had no effect on the
oscillations (only define the stable-equilibrium position).
For all forces acting on the block, we wrote:

density to 2 (which equals to 0.5 kg). We connect both
blocks with the spring for which we set k and b (equal to
models in other simulations). We need to set gravitational
force to 9.81 m/s2 and frequency of the calculation to
50 Hz.

'[']00 R / 1t ., 01llGlGl .- ... • Iii li=""3 g �

Figure 3: Simulation of dumpening oscillation in Algodoo.

We set simulation to run for 10 seconds. Data were --,

displayed on the graph and there are built-in function to
export the data in CSV (comma separated value) text file.
Figure 5: Simulation of dumpening oscillation in Physion.
E. Preparation of the simulations - Step
The modeling in the Step started with the position of the G. Preparation of the simulations -Berkeley Madonna
block 1 m from the center of the coordinate system - origin Berkeley Madonna is a software package for
(which represent the ceiling) (Figure 4). We set the mathematical modeling [20] developed by the University
coordinates for the block (0, 1) m (first number present x of Califorina at Berkeley. With this software, it is possible
and second y coordinate). We secure the block on both ends to numerically solve the differential equation [20]. The
to the simulation background with the object Pin. In the software is used in many fields of science for research and
coordinate center (0, 0) m we set the block with size (0.4, learning. Calculations ware performed with Runge-Kutta
0.4) m and set its weight to the 0.5 kg. We attached the 4th order (RK4). In frame of measurement errors, the
spring to both blocks (the upper one was fixed, the lower Berkeley Madonna simulation results perfectly match with
one can oscilate). In the attributes of the spring we set experimental results. Consequently, we used this software
localPositionll2 on both ends to enshure that spring is as the reference.
connected to the center axes of the blocks. With the object
WeightForce we add the force of gravity. To create a mathematical model, we need an equation
in differential form. We transformed (1) for dampening
oscillation by seting instead of a the dv/ dt, and thus we
� ......
__ _____ ,..u ...
--... .... _._---. .... -
c;. �_
.. ___ .......- _
..... ..
___ __ toI__
-... ....
dv bv kx
- ----
drsI/ik, = (6)
. ---- ,
dt m m
-,_ ... .,....
Equation (6) was therefore in a form ready for use in the

.' 7L�
software. In (6) are two variables v and x, therefore, we
have yet to define v = dx/ dt. Into the program we inserted

the settings; the equations; and the initial value (see Table

2). For the initial values, we used the same values as were
used in the other three simulations. In the simulation we
used the calculation method RK4.
Graflege v odvisnosti od casa za klado.

Figure 4: Simulation of dumpening oscillation in Step. Table 2. Data used for modeling in Berkeley Madonna.

Again, we set the simulation to run for 10 seconds, Initial values

before we save the calculated data.
m = 0,5 kg; k = 35 N/m

F. Preparation of the simulations -Physion Description of the lines Model- damped oscillation
When we opened the software Physion there were a b - 0,05
initial new environment with three blocks that have been
1 Method for calculations 1 METHOD RK4
deleted. First, we create a ceiling (Figure 5), which was 2 start time 2 STARTTTME = 0
made up of the block size (10.0, 0.2) m at a height of 1 m 3 end time 3 STOPTTME = 10,7
from the coordinate center (0, 0) m. We added the block 4 time step 4 DT=O.OI
size (0.5, 0.5) m (the size 0.4 was changed to 0.5 because 5 equation for calculation 5 dldt(x) =v
we could defme the mass of the block only by changing the 6 equation for calculation 6 dldt(v) = -(b* v)/m -(k/m)* x
7 initial x value 7 init x =2.07
blocks density). We add the mass of the block by setting its
8 initial v value 8 init v=O

9 constant b 9 b = 0,05 Graf: dU5cno nihanjc - primcrjava podatkov iz simulacij
10 constant k 10 k = 35
11 constant m 11 m = 0.5

After running the simulation for 10 s we get the graph

(Figure 6) of displacement (position) and velocity of the 0.05
oscilating block as function of time. We have saved the data
to the CSV file. We used the data for the analysis of the
position of the block in time.

I - Algodoo
- Step
- Physion
-0.1 -- Berkeley Madonna

4 10

Figure 7: Cumulative graph from all simulations: AJgodoo(blue),Step

(green), Physion(black),and Berkeley Madonna (red). The overlapping
of curves is excellent.

Figure 6: Graphs from Berkeley Madonna: position(black),velocit

In support of operating systems, we found that most of
desktop operating systems supports Algodoo, because it
could be installed on Windows operating systems, Mac OS
X and GNU / Linux using Wine program. Step can be
We tested the accuracy of three free accessible installed only by users of GNU / Linux operating system.
simulation environments with the reference simulation. For Physion, it was possible to install it on Windows and
The data of the damped oscillation collected from each GNU / Linux using Wine software. As we can see the users
simulation environment and in adition the Berkeley of GNU / Linux could install all three simulation
Madonna data as reference, were combined in a single environments which is very favourable for the free
graph (Figure 7). From the graph, we conclude that all the software.
simulation environments successfully passed our accuracy
test. Simulated results form the damped oscillations models Physical content coverage analyzis showed that the
in Algodoo, Step, and Physion and mathematical model in three reviewed simulation environments mostly overlap. It
Berkeley Madonna were comparable, since the peaks of the is possible to create models to simulate numerous physical
individual cycles were well matched. The matching of phenomena in mechanics. In addition, the Algodoo enables
results is satisfactory for displacement axis (small simulations in content of light, buoyancy and swimming.
differences only for results of Step), but even more for the The Step enables simulations in contents relating to
time axis (excellent matching). All three simulation electrical charge. Physion and Algodoo are the most
environments (Algodoo, Step and Physion) prove to be comparable, but in modeling of simulations using Algodoo
we can add also the effect of air resistance.
quantitatively credible and consequently adequate for use
in classroom. We are aware that this is just one example, In our analyzis, we find out that the three reviewed
but it was planned carefully as possible. This took into public available simulation environments (Algodoo, Step,
account some specific physics and computer knowledge Physion) provide the necessary software supplement to the
and skills. The results of our credibility test were positive experimental work at physics teaching. The quantitative
and confirms the appropriateness of the simulation testing of the credibility of the simulation environments,
environments. based on the analyzing the almost perfectly overlapping of
the time dependency of the displacement of the dumped
oscillators, proves the adequacy of them. They cover most
of the typical content in primary and secondary schools;
they may be also adequate for university level education of
physics. In the future, we can expect the development of
even more advanced simulation software for teaching
physics and for other disciplines in school. The accuracy of
the analyzed simulation environments is appropriate,
consequently all three simulation environments are
adequate for using them in the teaching of physics in
elementary and high schools.


Acknowledgement: The work was fmancially

supported by the donation of the company nT-BROG d.o.o.

[21] to the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to
support the interdisciplinary development of didactics of

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