Teaching the Physics of Angry Birds


It turns out that Angry Birds is more than just an incredibly popular, highly addicting video game. It seems that, used in the right way, it has legitimate educational value.

According to an article at eSchool News (registration required in order to read the complete article), some physics teachers have embraced Angry Birds as a teaching tool. It seems the natural laws of the popular Rovio game’s world do not entirely correspond to real-world physics, and the differences make for some interesting study opportunities. John Burk, a physics teacher at Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Ga, explains, “We get to ask questions just like scientists ask when they’re trying to figure out the atmospheric composition of a planet, or the motion of a new never-before-seen asteroid.” Burk got the idea of combining “Angry Birds” with the study of physics from Rhett Allain, associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University and a science blogger for Wired.com.

In addition to Burk and Allain, the article also describes how science teachers Frank Noschese and Michael Magnuson each used Angry Birds as resources for their students; Noschese used the Google Chrome version of the game to create several videos that he posted on YouTube, while Magnuson created a brief quiz which was circulated on an email list to physics teachers in Western New York state. Questions included whether a blue angry bird conserves energy when it splits in three, or a white bird conserves momentum when it drops its egg.

One factor that the teachers all explore is the fact that forces do not behave the same way in the game that they would in the real world; according to Burk, “If Rovio had chosen a realistic value for the gravitational field, the motion would have happened much more quickly, and the game would likely not be as fun.”

Angry Birds appears to be the gateway game for science class; some students are already moving on to examine other games, such as Tiny Wings, another game for smartphones.

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