STEAM App: Forces & Motion Simulation

STEAM App: Forces & Motion Simulation

by TeachThought Staff

STEAM App Features

(Forces and Motion: Basics from PhET Interactive Simulations at the University of Colorado Boulder)

  • HTML5 simulation, runs on most web browsers (the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari). Generally operating system agnostic.
  • Tablet compatible with a size of 1.64 MB.
  • Research-based and user-tested
  • Compatible with both mouse and touchscreen environments
  • Highly interactive and usable in many modalities (lecture demo, in class activity, homework, lab supplement)
  • Intuitive interface with dynamic visualizations, allowing rich exploration and rapid inquiry cycles
  • Intended for middle and high school students learning about the basic concepts of forces and motion.
  • Available for free at:

STEAM App Details

The Forces and Motion: Basics interactive simulation allows students to dynamically investigate the concepts of forces, net force, acceleration, Newton’s second law, and how forces affect motion in a rich and engaging digital environment.

This simulation scaffolds the main concepts of forces and motion through 4 different screens: Net Force and Motion, The Basics of Motion, Friction, and finally Acceleration. On the first screen, students can place pullers on either side of a massive cart, set up an experiment, and test to see what happens with balanced or unbalanced forces. The sim incorporates the representation of vectors to visualize the size of the forces on either side of the cart, so students can see that various situations can lead to balanced or unbalanced forces, and that when a net force is applied the cart accelerates in the direction of the net force. The subsequent screens show a robotic pusher that can apply a pushing force to various objects. On the Motion screen, objects of varying masses are placed on a skateboard so friction can be neglected when considering the motion of the objects. On the Friction screen, a slider is introduced that allows the student to adjust the coefficient of friction, and see the effect on motion. Finally, the acceleration screen introduces an acceleration meter and a bucket of water, providing a visual representation of acceleration in a real-world context.

The simulation is designed to help students untangle and clarify concepts related to forces and motion. Many students find Newton’s laws to be counterintuitive. For instance, students are often surprised that acceleration can be opposite from the direction of motion, or that when moving at a constant velocity the net force on an object must be equal to zero. These concepts can be challenging and subtle, and this simulation allows students to test their ideas with immediate feedback and powerful visualizations, such as arrows showing the size and direction of forces.

PhET simulations are most often compared to Gizmos from Explore Learning, although our design philosophy is a bit different. We try to make extremely flexible tools with intuitive interfaces that allow the simulations to be used in multiple modalities.

3 Ideas For Use In The Classroom

  1. Lecture demo: Using the Net Force screen at an interactive whiteboard or projecting the simulation in front of the class, set up a scenario and ask your class to predict the result before hitting the “Go” button. For example, “Will the left team win, the right team win, or will it be a tie?” For example, the pullers have been chosen with values such that three pullers can equal the force of two pullers (as shown in the first screenshot).
  1. Think-pair-share: In a 1:1 classroom, use a challenge prompt to guide student exploration with the simulation. For instance, ask student groups to use a 300 N applied force on the Friction screen, and make the minimum net force that exceeds zero. Then ask students to share their solutions with the class and discuss the different solutions to the challenge