Since I’ve done this over the summer with real life bottle rockets, a launcher that could be set at any angle, and a vertical target, I’m not finding the computerized version nearly as interesting. I’ve also run a simpler version of this in my classroom with wads of paper. Why must everything be digital? [emph. added]
Hopefully I've made clear by now my preference for pedagogy over technology. If digital media makes for inferior learning, then, by all means, let's stuff it in a burlap sack and toss it in the river. My preference is also for the real thing over a digital simulation of the real thing. That said, there are three circumstances where digital media is preferable to the real thing:
- The real thing is too expensive. I'd rather let every kid hold a photo of a measuring cup than spend $100 for a class set of measuring cups. It's too expensive to take a class trip to the Yucatan Peninsula so perhaps we can forgive ourselves for showing photos of the Mayan pyramids instead. I'd much rather copy and paste Google's satellite imagery into a Keynote presentation than charter a plane to take my kids up in groups.
- The real thing is too mathematically noisy for classroom use. Jason prefers a real demonstration of projectile motion using bottle rockets to my use of online simulators but that introduces acceleration and wind resistance— mathematical noise — into the system. Let's not romanticize the real or the digital. They are both deficient. They both require a cost-benefit analysis.
- The real thing can't be iterated precisely enough. I wanted to show my students several misses with "Will it hit the can?" — long, short, and to the side — and at least one success. If my students were live with me, on the scene, they would see many, many, many misses, most of which would be mathematically unhelpful. My students can also measure and manipulate digital media (by modeling a parabola in Geogebra, tracking motion in Logger or Tracker, etc.), something they can't do with live events.