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Science > Physics

NEWTON'S PLAYGROUND

Explore the basic principles of physics and simple machines by drawing levers, ramps, and much more in this whimsical sandbox game.

grade level:
6-12
profile avatar
Created by
Mylo Lam
Curriculum Developer and Researcher

Overview

Newton’s Playground (NP) is a digital physics sandbox game that is designed to teach players a variety of physics concepts. Players are presented with a series of challenges in which they must move a ball across obstacles using drawn-in machines (levers, pullies, springs, etc). While students are interacting with the game, they implicitly learn specific science concepts such as Newtonian Physics, systems thinking, and energy conservation, in addition to specific processes of science like engineering and designing elegant solution strategies.

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The menu screen of Newton's Playground.

Below is an excerpt from the creator’s website, describing the game in further detail:

Newton's Playground is a computer game that emphasizes two-dimensional physics simulations, including gravity, mass, kinetic energy, and transfer of momentum. Everything obeys the basic rules of physics relating to gravity and Newton's three laws of motion. The player can nudge the ball to the left and right (if the surface is flat), but the primary way to move the ball is by drawing physical objects on the screen that 'come to life' once the object is drawn.”

Playground

The puzzle game is scaffolded to encourage implicit, conceptual learning: students, through play, exploration, and discovery, will develop the basic physics knowledge without being explicitly told what they are learning. The game’s open environment encourages players to solve levels in different and creative ways in a sandbox that adheres to the laws of physics which is enabled by simple machines. This helps students explore and discover physics concepts through play in authentic, memorable ways, where science is useful and the means to solve problems. Furthermore, players can create their own levels and watch replays of how they completed a level, which offers multiple avenues to exhibit and assess learning.

Newton's playground breakdown

Ease of Use

Knowledge of simple machines (e.g. lever, ramp, pendulum, etc.) is helpful. There are short tutorials within the game on how to draw these machines (“Agent Tutorials”), and the first set of levels (“Playground 1”) shows basic game mechanics. Unless part of a facilitated lesson plan, players may want to go through these tutorials to have a cursory understanding of the game’s controls and physics concepts.

Controls

Newton’s Playground requires simple mouse or cursor controls, used to draw various objects. Players can draw objects by holding the left-click control and dragging the cursor across the screen. Right-clicking on a user-created object will erase it.

Features

When first opened up, the game has three modes: Agent Tutorials, Playgrounds, and Level Editor

Agent Tutorials contains four short tutorials, showing players how to make four different simple machines (lever, pendulum, ramp, and springboard) that are essential to solving the various levels within the game.

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Agent tutorials

There are seven Playgrounds, each containing a set of different levels with the same basic goal: find a way to get the ball to the balloon with 10 or fewer user-created drawings. A variety of obstacles is in the way, requiring players to move the ball or other objects that already exist within the level to complete the challenge. 

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In this level, students use the concept of scale and momentum to move the ball.

The game ramps up in difficulty as players go from Playground 1 to Playground 7. However, all levels can be played from the beginning, so players are not required to complete previous levels to access later ones. 

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Playground 1 provides instructions of the basic controls of the game.

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By Playground 7, users are using multiple and increasingly complex physics concepts to solve the puzzles.

In Level Editor, players can create their own levels, save them, and challenge others to solve them. When creating a new level, players can click on the “Static” option at the top-right of the screen, so that any objects they create will not be affected by gravity and will not fall out of the screen. They can click on “Dynamic” to turn gravity back on. 
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Here is the simple beginning interface of the level editor.

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Here is a finished version of a level that we created in Newton's Playground.

Finally, Newton’s Playground also contains a replay viewer as a built-in assessment tool. By clicking on the “NP Replay Viewer” icon, which is a separate icon from the actual game, players can watch how they, or others, solved (or didn’t solve) the levels. The NP Replay Viewer requires Newton’s Playground to be downloaded on the same PC in order to work.

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