Saturday, February 26, 2022

My Favorite Web Applications - Part 1

I've used online web applications as supplement or enhancement to the class material, but during the pandemic when we went remote, I relied on them even more. In fact, I remember a couple of days where I did a lot of surfing and searching to find suitable web applications for various activities and topics, simply to catalog on the various things that are out there that I could use for my classes.

Over the months and years, I have a bunch of web applications that I consistently go to that I find to be quite useful. These can either be simulations to illustrate a physical concept, or virtual activities or experiments that mimic what students may perform in a lab.

In a series of posts, I will show what I've used and how each one was used, especially during a remote class. Maybe someone might find one or more of them useful, or might see it being used in a different way. Better yet, maybe someone has a better web application for the same task. I definitely like to hear that!

To start of, here is my most favorite web application to demonstrate the phases of the moon and why we, on Earth, see what we see. Despite the simple-looking screen, this webpage is choke-full of information. The biggest part of the screen shows the location of an observer on Earth, the location of the Moon, and the position of the Sun. You can manually click and drag the observer and the moon to get them to move to any valid position, or run the animation.

But don't ignore the two smaller animation on the right side of the screen. The top animation shows the moon phase that the observer sees at that time of the month. The lower animation shows what the observer sees at that time of the month and the time of the day. It indicates the positions of the moon and the sun at that particular time of day.

This is a very useful application to get students to understand why we see various phases of the moon, why we see the moon in a particular position in the sky at certain time of the month, etc. I tend to let the student play with the application for a while and then ask them to use the application to answer a series of questions. For example, what is the most likely day of the month for you see a full moon directly above your head at midnight? This is what the student should set up with the application to answer this question.


Another example was opportunistic because the Muslim's fasting month started sometime during the semester, and it was a common practice (it still is in many parts of the Muslim world) for people to look for the crescent moon at sundown to signify the start of their fasting month. So I also ask for when is it most likely to see a waxing crescent at sundown?

One of the best thing about this app is the ability to make the students realize, if they haven't already, that they should and can see the Moon during the day, i.e. when the Sun is also in the same side of the sky as the Moon! This allows use to discuss the often-mistaken idea that the phases of the Moon are due to the shadow of the Earth on the Moon from the Sun. We can also carry a more advanced discussion on why we don't see eclipses of the Sun and the Moon every month, especially if they have understood what this web application seems to convey.

I've looked at other websites demonstrating and explaining phases of the Moon, but to me, this is the best one out there so far.


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