Physics with Snap!

How can Snap! be used in physics instruction?

Let''s cut to the chase. With Snap!, you can: 1) create student tasks that develop and apply coding skills in this visual block programming language 2) create your own illustrations and animations of physics concepts 3) model analytical thought processes on an interactive platform resulting in a computer code representation that students can understand 4) create learning guides in which students are prompted by your own custom-made Snap! animations 5) use Snap! to present animated notes a la a Powerpoint or Google presentation slides and 6) build upon Scratch programming skills that students may already have because in many ways Snap! is identical to that popular coding platform used in primary and middle schools. In short, Snap! is an incredibly versatile and intuitive digital classroom tool that fosters creativity in teachers and students. AND IT IS FREE!

What does this website offer?

I am sharing my experience developing and applying Snap! in my ninth grade honors physics classroom in a blog. I am providing examples of Snap! scripts that exemplify its variety of usages. I am providing links to tutorial videos created to build student skills using a narrow set of Snap!'s many features. All of this comes through the lens of a physics instructor interested in programming/coding only to the extent that it supports and enhances the learning of physics.

What is the motivation ?

A computer program (called a "script" in Snap!) that simulates a physical event is a distinctly rich model of the real world that can enhance student understanding derived from other representations of the physical world in the form of diagrams, graphs, and equations. In my own experience, the depth of my understanding of a physical phenomenon is deepest and most satisfying when I am able to write computer code that models the event.

Snap! is a platform that is simple and intuitive enough that makes it possible to provide young physics students the same thrill of deepening their understanding by writing scripts that animate objects based on the laws of physics. Additionally, in using Snap! students are developing a general appreciation for computer code along with a level of skill. For schools that provide all students with their own computer, Snap! is an ideal platform to pursue blended learning opportunities and take advantage of the best that computers have to offer to education.

A student that learns physics in part by creating and modifying Snap! scripts is doing what is called "computational thinking" or "computational modeling." This has been a pedagogical concept for some time, but it is a particularly hot area of interest and activity in K-12 education, now. As a teacher, employing Snap! makes this educational research relevant and creates a possibility for your own action research.

What is the best way to try using Snap! ?

If you are new to programming, watch the tutorial videos, write simple scripts to practice what you learn, then look at the examples to get started thinking about how you might fold Snap! into your instruction. At first, It may be best to use Snap! to present information, concepts, or student tasks that do not require students to modify or create scripts. If students are to be asked to modify or write scripts themselves, they will need class time to learn the basics of Snap!

Is it a lot of effort?

It is. Especially so if you are new to programming, yourself. Extensive use of Snap! as I am attempting requires significant alterations to current instruction and supporting materials. My experience indicates that the desired impact in student learning is not achieved with occasional or limited exposure to Snap! If students are unfamiliar with coding, it takes time for them to gain comfort. In a perfect world, students would enter my class well-versed in Scratch, stemming from experience in primary and middle school. In such a context, the application of Snap! to learn physics would be a straight-forward extension of student knowledge.

Early adopters will have to be convinced the change will improve their physics instruction and student outcomes It also helps if you derive pleasure and satisfaction in creating this new path. Ultimately, I think the change is inevitable. A growing number of students have their own computers and exposure to coding, already. And the number of teachers who come into the job with this skill set will only grow. Trails are being blazed, right now. There are options for those looking to expose their students to programming/coding to benefit from its synergistic effect with physics. Snap! is a wonderful means for teachers to do that and more.