App review by Pamela Brittain, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2020
Thermonator

Thermonator

Move on from this molecular motion simulator

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Grades
5–8
Subjects & Skills
Science

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Pros: A unique interface shows particle movement and interactions.

Cons: No in-app instructions or help, limited teacher resources, clunky interface, and unclear demonstration of scientific principles.

Bottom Line: A good idea that's poorly executed and has limited use, and engagement, for the classroom.

Although there are no in-app instructions or help, Concord Consortium, the app's developer, provides limited teacher resources that explain how the app works and how it can be used in the classroom. The app might be good for a class demonstration or as a one-off activity with a lot of frontloading about how the app works. And you'll have to create the bridge between what happens in the app and the science concepts you're teaching. With a really strong knowledge and background in physics, a teacher might be able to find some really unique ways to use this app. Overall, though, it relies heavily on the teacher introducing the app and its functions and then leaves students on their own to play around with functions and see if they can figure out what's going on. 

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Thermonator was designed to show students how states of matter change. After selecting different properties, students can press play and see how the particles interact with one another and can interpret and experiment with different aspects such as number, speed, "stickiness," gravity, attraction, and ability to interact. Essentially, the idea behind the app is for students to play around with different settings, make predictions, and then see what happens.

Buried deep within the app download page is a link to a teacher resource that provides a single lesson plan on how to incorporate the app into a classroom and some brief instructions on how to use the app. Inside the lesson plan is another link to a video that shows how the app works. However, there's no sound on the video, and the text that describes how the functions work goes by so quickly that you have to constantly pause and rewind to absorb the information. 

Thermonator really leaves a lot up to the student to try to figure out, but it doesn't really provide students with any background to help them figure it out. It's also not a fully accurate representation of changes of state and how they work; there's no discussion of heat energy, and the focus is on particle movement and the transference of kinetic energy. The buttons don't have highly descriptive images or instructions, and the function for moving the dividing barrier down is confusing. So, while the app is based on a solid premise, it may just lead to confusion and frustration for students trying to understand the concepts behind molecular motion and changes of state. 

Overall Rating

Engagement

An out-of-date interface and confusing controls make Thermonator frustrating for students.

Pedagogy

If you can figure out how to effectively use Thermonator, students can see a visual representation of some aspects of molecular motion.

Support

There's no help (or instructions) within the app, and there are limited teacher resources on how to use Thermonator in the classroom.


Common Sense reviewer
Pamela Brittain Researcher

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