Review by Common Sense Editor, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2013

Physics Central

Up-to-date physics news site good for extra curricular reading

Subjects & skills

  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Users can stay current on recent happenings in the physics world.

Cons: Materials aren't developed to help kids learn the concepts most commonly taught in high school physics classrooms.

Bottom Line: Fun physics news can be a nice extension for some students, but content might not be as helpful in supporting physics curriculum.

Teachers can use Physics Central to find reading material that isn't available in physics textbooks. The scientific and technical text provided can be used to address the Common Core Reading Standards for Science Subjects. Actual excerpts from certain popular fiction and nonfiction books might get some kids fired up about the subject matter. Teachers can stay on top of current news in the discipline by checking out the Physics Buzz Blog. If you are using the site as a class, carefully monitor student activity. Physics Central is monitored, and some posts are taken down by the site administrator. However, kids can publish anonymous replies to posts, an option they may exploit by writing disrespectful entries.

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Physics Central highlights the fun and interesting parts of physics. The site provides a broad variety of resources including pictures, physicist biographies, podcasts, and video clips. The Physics Buzz Blog describes the current developments in the world of Physics. A section called “Ask & Experiment” gives descriptions of basic Physics activities that can be done in the classroom or at home. Examples include: Skull Galaxies, where you can view an X-ray image and read a description of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster; Weightlessness in Movies, where you can listen to a podcast about how weightlessness is simulated; and Crash Reconstruction Physics, where you can read an article about the ways physics is used in legal proceedings.

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Some resources on the site are not clearly linked to physics curriculum. For example, a podcast called "Gauss’s Missing Brain” tells the story of a famous mathematician's brain that was misplaced after he died. Though it's an interesting story about the physiology of genius, it's not that useful in a physics classroom. This problem appears in some of the Physics Quest activities, as well. For example, Go with the Flow examines the reasons Michael Phelps swims so fast, asking the question “Which shapes are more hydrodynamic?” While this topic may interest kids, it is not a crucial learning point for high school physics students. Many activities seem geared more toward middle school science students than high school students.

Overall, the Physics Central site is well organized. Users can click on a major topic in physics and see a broad variety of resources. The highlight of the site is the Writers Gallery, which provides excerpts from popular physics-related books. This can be helpful when looking for authentic, non-standard texts for student reading.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Catchy topics draw kids in, but certain certain slow-paced resources, like the Vodcasts, may cause them to lose interest.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Resources might be a good hook at the beginning of a unit or lesson, but for real physics curriculum, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Physics Central has opportunities to extend learning with video contests and its Ask a Physicist feature. Videos and podcasts lack closed-captioning and are available only in English.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Darlynda M. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Erie 1 BOCES
West Seneca, NY
Meant to excite and inform everyone about physics

This website attempts to peak everyone's interest about physics. The website is divided into 3 main sections: Explore the Science, Ask & Experiment, and Physics Buzz. Moreover, there is a resources for educators section to assist educators with finding resources for their classrooms. The Explore the Science section includes pictures, videos, and podcasts to assist students and teachers in their exploration of physics. The Ask & Experiment section includes experiments to do at home, video contests, an Ask-a-Physicist section, free Spectra kits (4 story based experiments) for 6-9th grade classes, comic books for middle school students about physics, activity coloring books to introduce elementary kids to physics, and an Adopt-a-Physicist forum for high school students. The Physics Buzz section includes blogs about physics. One should note each section has archived items along with the current items. Recently, the American Physical Society online journal became available to high school physics students within the educator resources section. The website works on an iPad along with a computer. Although many physics topics are available for exploration, the teacher or student may or may not find the physics topic they are looking for. The website did not contain any specific tools to assist specific populations such as ELL or low literacy students.

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