Transformative Applications in Education/Phun
Phun was created by Emil Ernerfeldt for his thesis project at Umea University. It is used to expose students to physics related topics such as engineering, simulation, animation, and art.
Phun can be a useful tool in classrooms that can be used by teachers and students to create meaningful learning experiences through the study of the laws of physics, but not on a technical, scientific level to which students are accustomed when they are presented with such an academic subject. Phun provides students with "phun" activities in which students engage without really even knowing that they're practicing physics. Phun is transformative in that it encourages the transformation from traditional to more contemporary learning practices by permitting students to learn without having formulas and equations thrown at them and then expecting them to solve problems centered around physics with paper and pencils. Phun can be applied to not only secondary students to whom physics is usually taught, but also to younger students, to whom basic math and science skills can be introduced. Phun is constructivist in nature and allows students to actively engage in and "construct" their own knowledge based on their experiences. According to the creators of Phun, this tool is based on the constructionist approach to enable learning. In simple terms, according to Papert and Harel (1999), constructionism is learning by making.
Phun from a Teacher's Point of View
Every time I stand in front of my high school, emotional support classroom and teach students who are below grade level how to divide using long division, I struggle to figure out why I'm teaching it and how to teach it in a more meaningful way to my students so that they see and understand the relevance. When I think about this example, I am reminded of my days in high school and having to sit through the same boring, irrelevant information that had no meaning for me at the time. If my teachers, both in science and math, could have figured out a better, more engaging way to teach me about math and science, I would have gotten more out of the classes. With applications, such as Phun, at our finger tips, teachers need to be exposing their students to these exciting, meaningful tools and having them create their own meanings from real-life experiences.
Phun is a great tool to use in the class; however, in order to have better results the use of this application needs to be provided with adequate scaffolding. Teachers need to realize that this application is only a sand box. If meaningful learning is to take place, students need to get involved in realistic tasks that involve collaboration with their peers.
On its own, Phun is simply going to remain in students' memories as part of a superb personal experience using an animation application to explore physics concepts. It is the teacher's responsibility to take this application a step further. Teachers could provide tasks that require active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative learning processes. Hence, students could actively engage by a meaningful task in which they manipulate objects and parameters of the environment they are working in and observe the results of their manipulations. Students are given the opportunity to reflect on their experiences, and integrate new experiences to their prior knowledge about the world. In addition, they can also establish goals for what they need to learn in order to make sense out of what they observe. In any case, students are actively and willfully trying to achieve a cognitive goal, thinking and learning more because they are fulfilling an intention. The optimum scenario is to see students naturally working together in learning and knowledge-building communities, exploiting each others’ skills and appropriating each other’s knowledge. Even though, the cooperative feature has not been built into the application, there is room to fill this gap with other resources.
Phun from a Student's Point of View
I remember being in physics class in high school and having to sit through an extended period of physics right around lunch time. I would sit there, wait for the instructor to give us some kind of formula to use to figure out problems having to do with gravity, force, mass, etc., and then simply plug in the numbers to compute the answers. Once I had the formulas I was good to go and got most problems correct. There was one problem though. I had no idea really what I was doing and what the formulas, numbers, and answers meant. I knew I was performing some type of math that had to do with physics and possibly something Isaac Newton formulated. I didn't have any experiences to which I could relate my formulas, and I really didn't care because the formulas didn't have any relevance to my life. Right about now I would have really enjoyed being exposed to Phun. Using Phun in physics would have given me the opportunity to construct my own meaning of at least a basis of what physics is all about, and it would have kept my attention and engaged me more in the learning process.
Even from a graduate student's point of view, the class period during which we talked about and experienced Phun engaged me and made me want to actually learn more about physics and how it relates to the catapults we were making to knock down our brick walls. It is this type of guided instruction that allows for student exploration and inquisition of applications not yet learned.
Description of Application
Phun is an educational, entertaining software for designing and exploring 2D multi-physics simulations in a cartoony fashion. It's long term mission is to bring visual physics based simulation to the masses.
Phun has been created:
• To make physics fun.
• To promote interest in science and technology among youngsters.
• To enable learning using a constructionist approach
• To use fast and stable cutting-edge methods for multi-physics simulation and solvers
• Using a high level of interactivity, simple and efficient interface that encourages creativity and exploration.
Using the program
When the application is loaded, there are three toolbars that appear at the top of the screen. The top bar is the menu bar. Underneath the menu bar is the simulation control bar. The last bar is the tool box which contains 12 tools such as the sketch tool, the brush tool, the box tool, the circle tool and so forth.
In addition, there are a number of mouse controls that are very handy:
1. left mouse button: either draw or move things..depending on which tool you are using 2. right mouse button: normally it's used for rotating, but when you drag the right mouse button on empty space, you can pan 3. middle mouse wheel: scroll to zoom in and out 4. left and right mouse buttons at the same time: pan the view
One of the main transformative potentials is that it makes physics fun, which in the real world is difficult to achieve. In addition, it promotes interest in science and technology among kids, youth, students and even adults. Phun is a tool that encourages creativity and exploration, enabling learning using a constructionist approach, pretty much like Netlogo for complex systems.
Using Phun users experience the relevance of basic concepts such as, time, space, conservation of energy and momentum, friction, restitution, viscosity, air resistance, fluid flow, incompressibility (or rather the opposite), mechanisms and constraints.
Furthermore, this tool is free to download from the Internet and can be customized to different languages. It is a great resource to have in schools that have computers but struggle to get teaching and learning resources due to the high cost of science related software.
Phun Tutorials and miscellaneous materials.
Brief explanation of the tools in Phun to change, interact with and create things in a simulation.
Create and download your Phunlets.
A 2D physics puzzle / sandbox game, in which you get to experience what it would be like if your drawings would be magically transformed into real physical objects. Solve puzzles with your artistic vision and creative use of physics.
MIT created one years ago that seems to be the parent of all these newer versions.
Suspension animation of pick up and trailer.
Bodin, K. (2008). Phun!. Retrieved April 2, 2009, from: http://www.vrlab.umu.se/research/phun/
Papert, S. & Harel, I. (1991). Situating Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
Wikipedia. (2008). Constructionism. Retrieved April 2, 2009, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructionist_learning