12 July 2010

iPad apps for physics teaching

At the AP reading, and again at my summer institutes, physics teachers showed me all sorts of applications for their handheld devices.  As I expressed reluctance to dive into such trendy tech gear, Karie Meyers (a college professor at my table) sat me down and told me bluntly -- mobile apps are here to stay.  Teenagers use them fluently.  Either learn to use them, Greg, or be considered a dinosaur by your students. 

Based on her prodding, and further kicked in the butt by the attendees at Kennesaw State, I asked Woodberry's tech director about iPad apps.  He had bought one iPad to share around departments, to see whether anyone could find a serious academic use for it.  I am his first guinea pig - I have been using the iPad over the weekend.  I've found apps to measure magnetic field (free), to find current and predicted weather and barometric pressure (free), to measure the angle of the iPad (free), and to show and name stars in any direction (not free, but bloody impressive). 

I want to find something to make position- and velocity-time graphs using the internal accelerometer.  Pasco makes a free app that will plot acceleration vs. time, but I can't figure out how to derive the other plots on the iPad.  (Pasco also claims that this app can plot output from ANY of its probes using bluetooth.  Great, but I have Vernier, not Pasco, probes.)

I've found other cool apps that are only tangentially related to physics teaching, like google earth, a giant timer, a ruler, a periodic table, and so on.  There are physlet-style simulation apps available, but (a) they cost money, (b) they're available online for free, and (c) I'm not a huge fan of simulations for teaching purposes, anyway.

I have little doubt that, five years down the line, Pasco and/or Vernier will have updated their data collection line such that the probes work wirelessly with the iPad or equivalent, and the LabPro or LabQuest will be unnecessary.  That's why I need to start figuring out how to use these things now.

What I want to know from your comments and emails:  What data-collection apps are available?  What apps might I use directly or indirectly in my classroom?  Give me some ideas to track down...



  1. Vernier video Physics APP (free) is now available for iphone/ipodTouch and ipad
    with the USB connector the ipad can analyse a video taken on a phone or digital camera.

    with an iphone and bluecampro APP (AUD$2.99) the ipad can control the iphone to take the movie.

  2. Particle zoo (free) is a very good reference app for quickly getting info on sub atomic, elementary and theoretical particles. It provides info like spin, mass and a short description of the particle.
    Another incredibly fascinating app is Fractile (free) showing the Mandlebrot set in glorious detail with quite an impressive zoom.

  3. Airsketch and Adobe Ideas for students sharing work in a Physics community. Rather than solve problems at the board with an Expo marker, I use Adobe Ideas for drawing free body diagrams. You can upload an image (Picture) to a Layer, then draw Force lines, and then fade the image out leaving simple blocks with vector arrows. With Airsketch, you can have students stay at their desk and transmit their work to the computer projector - saving the work as a pdf file. I never have to turn my back to the students to write something on the board - I also have a home style printer, copier, scanner w/document feeder in the room. During class, student work is collected, scanned, and put up on the board for review and discussion.....IT folks want complicated stuff (forget in school servers - go to the cloud instead; how many people still bury money in their backyard rather than put in the bank across town?) - thank goodness for the App (rather than Application); and someday schools will figure out that technology from the local office supply store is what we really need ie. teacher centered Apps, IPad, and Printer,Copier,Scanner in each room.

  4. I develop an application for iPhone and iPad serving as a reference on how the LHC works and allows to view the real-time results of their experiments.

    I am looking for opinions on how to improve it and make these advanced topics more accessible to the public.

    The app is called LHC Info Browser, this is the link:


  5. Ah.....office supplies seriously?
    Why not get the ipad to print whatever your students do as a pdf and send it to the cloud and retrive it - no need for any scanners, or printers. Save a tree