'Algodoo' enchants teachers and learners – and  Chris Drage – as they 'play' with the dynamics of physics
Algodoo screenshot 1'Algodoo': 'encourages students creativity, ability and motivation to construct and test'During the annual BETT week in London people inevitably ask me what I have seen that is unique, ground-breaking and "revolutionary". Usually my answer has been: “Nothing revolutionary, but ‘xyz’ is evolving rather well.” At BETT 2011, I stumbled on an item of software which, for a reviewer, was a Eureka moment: Algodoo!

As a former secondary teacher trained for science, I have been acutely aware of how easily students can be turned off physics as they progress . Anything to make physics fun and enjoyable as well as challenging has to be a top priority. As head of a secondary ICT department, I tried in vain to find exciting software for this purpose. In Algodoo, I finally found that software.

Algodoo represents a completely new and unique way of approaching difficult concepts in physics – where students can interact and "play" with physics in a completely safe, virtual environment. They can design, build, and explore with rigid-body objects, fluids, chains, gears, gravity, friction, springs, hinges, lenses, prisms etc having needing all the equipment to create the things. And they can interact with them too.

Version 2 of 'Algodoo' is revolutionary

It’s taken until now, though, for Algodoo to become fully intuitive, graphically appealing and mature in its modus operandi. With version 2 of the software (for Windows PCs and Mac), nearly anything is possible – it's truly revolutionary!

Originally spawned by a freeware program called PHUN, Algodoo (version 2) comes in two flavours: Algodoo for Education and Algodoo Physics. Algodoo for Education is really easy to learn thanks to the step-by-step tutorials which guide you from the very beginning. After that you can browse, load and create lessons from within Algodoo or examine your scenes with graphs and visualisation of forces, velocities and momentum. It is designed for quick and easy experimentation to motivate students and younger children to learn about physics in a totally interactive and enjoyable manner.

One of the key features of Algodoo for Education is the built-in lesson planning. When starting you also get access to the Algodoo lesson library with more than 40 lessons and a large number of user-made lessons. Every one responds to different key stages and disciplines in science and physics education. These aim to save teachers time in their lesson preparation as well as reduce the requirement for being an expert. Teachers are able to create, save and share their own lessons – either for personal use or for putting in the Algodoo library. Students too can load and run lessons on their own machines.

Another key feature is its optimisation for the SMART Board (you will be able to see demonstrations on the SMART stand – B50 – at BETT 2012). Publisher Algoryx has created an optimised, multi-touch version for the SB800 series of interactive whiteboards.  It supports multi-user drawing, interaction and editing, pen gestures for creating objects and the ability to interact with scenes and control simulations. Full support for SMART Board pen colours, erasers and gestures is also provided.

Particularly interesting is the optimisation that lets users take advantage of the dual-user, dual-sketch, and dual-touch functions of the new SB800 series of interactive whiteboards. This makes Algodoo for Education an extremely useful tool for explaining and exploring physical systems using simple click-and-draw editing, with the opportunity to visualise forces, velocities and plots. It is a shame that as yet there is no fully integrated version for the multi-touch Promethean ACTIVboard 500 Pro although Algodoo works on it perfectly well.  

'Amazing machines can be created, and even games too'

Algodoo Physics is essentially a cut-down version of the full education package lacking features like plots, lessons and visualisation of forces, velocities and momentum. Apart from that it shares the same look, feel and modus operandi, allowing students to build, play and make inventions that come alive (it's labelled "Entertainment" in Apple's App Store). With simple drawing tools, objects like gears, motors, lasers, springs, ropes, and even water, can come to life and demonstrate their properties, allowing ideas to be tested. Amazing machines can be created, and even games too. It's a playground for budding inventors.

Algodoo screenshot 2In use, Algodoo is highly addictive. After downloading, installing and activating the full version, I was immediately ready to create. I found working through the tutorials paid off and I soon became adept at designing and testing ideas. The tool bars are logical and sensibly set out around the workspace, providing plenty of area in which to create.

The basic tool kit of circles, boxes, polygons, planes, gears, ropes and chains to construct shapes is pretty commonplace in design software but when you begin adding items like springs, axles, thrusters, lasers, anchors and tracers you begin to grasp what Algodoo is really about.

So many attributes and variables can be changed that it positively encourages youngsters to experiment and ask those important "What if?" questions and try their ideas out. Tools like scale, rotate, move, cut and drag allow you to edit and interact with your creations, and the ease with which you can create water, set collision layers, group objects and add mechanics to your different components really do set Algodoo apart from any other software I have seen.

'In seconds, you can set density, friction and restitution for your objects'

The ease with which you can experiment with the different materials and properties is very impressive. It means that, in seconds, you can set density, friction and restitution for your objects – making them slippery like ice, heavy like gold or bouncy like a rubber ball. Algodoo comes with nine different ‘pre-made’ materials: gold, glass, stone, steel, rubber, helium, wood, ice and the default "Algodoo material".

I quickly discovered that when you’re inventing, it’s best to start by building a ‘wall’, or adding a steep slope, somewhere in the background to stop your various vehicles running away! If designing your own is not to your taste, Algobox is an online library with more than 50,000 user-created scenes and creations that should inspire and motivate even the most reluctant learner.

If all this sounds like play and not physics be assured that all the mathematics lies hidden but available at any time. Similarly, variables and attributes can be altered to set new parameters to your models. I particularly like the fact that you can set "other world" parameters and test what might happen under those conditions, for example, "What happens when we simultaneously drop objects of different mass on the moon?"

If you want a new way to learn about physical science, then you have to try Algodoo – it’s all about learning by doing, a tool for students to design, construct and explore with. It's a perfect tool for creating interactive scenes and physical experiments and it encourages students' own creativity, ability and motivation to construct and test. As it is as entertaining as it is educational, Algodoo is also a perfect aid for children to learn and practise physics at home. I have to say I just love it!   

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose    5
Ease of use                5
Features                     5
Quality                        5
Value for money         5

Algodoo For Education

Sophisticated simulation software (for Windows and Mac) to explore Physics, €45 for single user licence, € 350 for 10-user licence  (full price range, including €1 per pupil per year and "eternal", here).
Algodoo Physics, €15 for single user licence.
Both programs are downloadable from the Algodoo website:
www.algodoo.com
Both programs are also available as apps (for Lion OS) from Apple's App Store (£29.49 for Algodoo for Education, £8.99 for Algadoo Physics)
Algoryx Simulation AB, Uminova Science Park, Box 7973, SE-907 19 Umeå (Sweden)

Visitors to BETT 2012 will be able to see demonstrations of Algadoo for SMART Boards on the SMART stand - B50.

Chris DrageChris Drage, a former teacher, is a consultant and journalist covering learning with ICT. You can contact him by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or follow him on Twitter – @chris_drage


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