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Teaching the equivalence principle through a combination of real life experiments and computer simulations
1 , * 2
1  National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, dept. of Phyiscs
2  University of Pireaus, dept. of Informatics


The need of transforming scientific knowledge to material suitable for teaching school students is a constant challenge for the educational community. Although it has been more than a century since quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity were established, both topics continue to be treated as modern physics, and only recently did they begun to be taught to students of levels prior to higher education. The work at hand is part of a larger effort to introduce the general theory of relativity in schools. To this end, we have devised appropriate experiments and computer simulation software. In particular, we present an educational simulation software that we created for the teaching of the principle of equivalence. The implementation was applied to 120 undergraduate students of the Pedagogical Department of the University of Athens, who do not major in physics but will be expected to teach young students the basic principles of relativity. The simulation software enables the user to measure forces inside a gravitational field and compare them to those exerted on bodies being accelerated. The controls incorporated in the software aim to motivate students to perform a variety of experiments, investigating every possible combination of parameters, in the hope to help them overcome most of the learning difficulties highlighted by previous research. The encouraging results of the research confirm the need to continue filling gaps in the fragmented instruction of physics in schools.

Keywords: general relativity; principle of equivalence; simulation software; virtual experiments