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My favorite web applications - Part 1

It is rather appropriate that the next web application on my list can actually make full use of the vector calculator that I mentioned in a recent post. Many of you may be familiar with the force table in a General Physics course lab. It is a contraption that looks similar to the picture below.

It actually is a rather useful apparatus to demonstrate vector addition and the powerful and convenient method of vector addition using components. Of course, when I assigned this to my students, we didn't use any vector calculator. The students had to calculate the components and find the resultant vector themselves. But this was also the situation where the students encountered the issue with knowing the correct angle that I mention in the vector calculator post. The only difference being that the visual "obviousness" here is more apparent than just looking at the numbers on an Excel spreadsheet.

When we went remote, I was lucky enough to come across this website that had a virtual version of the force table. In fact, other than not having the students struggle with knowing what weights to use, where to clamp them, and how to set up the pulleys, this exercise is quite similar to what I would normally do in class. I had to do only minor rewrite to my lab instruction to incorporate this web exercise.

The one thing I like about this app is that the situation is different for each student, i.e. the magnitudes and directions are unique to each student. Therefore, while they can consult with each other, each student still has to do his/her own calculations to get the answer. The students are given the instruction that they need to do this until they get it right, even if they exhausted all the tries and have to get the web to regenerate brand new set of forces and angles. Once they get it right, they have to do a screen capture of the acknowledgement page, and paste that in the report along with the working done to arrive at the correct answer.

The only thing I wish this web app has is the ability to specify the number of weights (or vectors) in use. In my in-person lab, I had the students start with just one vector, and they have to construct an opposing vector to get the equilibrium condition (trivial, of course, but you'd be surprised at the number of students who had to think about how to do this). Then they move on to having 2 given vectors, and finally 3 vectors, which is what we have in the web app. By doing this gradually, the students realize that they first need to find the resultant vector, and once they have that, all they need to do to get the equilibrium condition is to create another vector of equal magnitude but in opposite direction to the resultant.

Nevertheless, this is a useful web app and something that I intend to use even for in-person instruction.

Zz.

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