Workshop Physics Software

Using Excel Spreadsheets and WPTools

Currently the most frequent use of the computer involves the entry of data directly into a spreadsheet for further analysis. Spreadsheet calculations are used for data analysis, graphing, and mathematical modeling. Analytic mathematical modeling is introduced early in Workshop Physics courses as a way to match observational data with appropriate analytic equations (linear, quadratic, inverse, etc). Modeling is useful in exploring constant acceleration and other simple relationships. It is also used for the study of more complex subjects, such as the study of simple, damped, and driven harmonic oscillations or the behavior of the chaotic physical pendulum studied in Unit 15 of the Workshop Physics Activity Guide. Dickinson College Workshop Physics students make substantial gains on the Mathematical Modeling Conceptual Evaluation (MMCE) when compared to students who take more conventional physics courses.

Although we use Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets, other spreadsheets such as Claris Works or Vernier Software's Logger Pro 3 (Graphical Analysis) will work as well and will perform better on computers with limited memory and speed.

WPTools is a set of Workshop Physics Excel tools that have been developed to allow students to select icons placed on a custom toolbar for creating scatter plots from selected data and for performing linear or polynomial fits on the data. These tools are distributed with the instructor materials for Workshop Physics and are also available for download on this site.

Computer Assisted Data Collection & Analysis

The use of real-world data and graphical representations provides an immediate picture of how a physical quantity such as an object's position or temperature changes over time. This picture leads to a better understanding of the data's significance. A system for the capture and display of scientific data, consisting of a microcomputer, an electronic interface, software, and sensors, is often called a microcomputer-based laboratory system. MBL is a commonly used nickname for such a system. Another common name is simply computer-based laboratory system. (CBL is not used as a nickname because a recent new data recording system that works with a programmable calculator instead of a computer has been dubbed "CBL.")

At present there are a number of Computer-Based Laboratory systems with electronic interface devices, associated sensors, and software that allow either a Macintosh or PC-compatible computer to be used as a laboratory instrument. The electronic interfaces transform signals from the sensors into forms which the computer accepts as input. Many of these could be used in conjunction with Workshop Physics, however, we will only discuss the two systems used at Dickinson.


Vernier Software & Technology
distributes Logger Pro 3, which combines the mathematical features of Graphical Analysis with the real-time graphing features of the previous versions of Logger Pro. Logger Pro 3 is designed to work with Vernier's LabPro interface, which can support the more than 40 Vernier auto-ID sensors and a number of other sensors.

Pasco Scientific
distributes competing data collection software called Data Studio. Data Studio operates with Pasco's Science Workshop 500, Science Workshop 750, and PasPort Interfaces. This system is also designed to work with a large number of probes and sensors.

Software for videocapture and Analysis

Workshop Physics Students often acquire and analyze data from short Quicktime movies in class as well as for homework and projects. Students can use either LoggerPro 3.3 or VideoPoint Software to perform their video analyses.

LoggerPro 3.3

Suitable for most in-class and basic homework analyses where the Quicktime Movies are made with a fixed camera with its axis perpendicular to the plane of motion.

VideoPoint 2.5

Needed for advanced homework assignments and student projects where the Quicktime Movie was filmed with a camera that was zooming and/or panning. VideoPoint also has very flexible tools for finding the center of mass of a complex system of masses or the human body.

The VideoPoint Software was originally developed at Dickinson College to allow Workshop Physics Students to analyze motion. It is used for in-class activities, homework, and projects. VideoPoint is published by Lenox Software and distributed by PASCO Scientific. It is bundled with capture software to allow instructors and students to create their own QuickTime movies by digitizing images and video from video cameras, VCRs, DVD players, and VideoDisk Players.

You can visit the Lenox Software website to download a demonstration version of VideoPoint that is fully functional for the analysis of the 6 sample movies.

If you are interested in learning about the equipment you need to capture movies using VideoPoint Capture Software, you can visit Pat Cooney's Website at Millersville University.

If you are interested in learning more about using VideoPoint Capture and Analysis for student projects, see Teaching With VideoPoint or visit the NSF funded Live Photo Project Website

Other Software

Other Software developed for Workshop Physics includes physics-based games intended to reinforce the concepts learned in class. These games help students to apply the material in different situations than they see in class. For many students, they make it more interesting. These games include:

Electric Field Hockey

These titles are available from Physics Academic Software.