September PICUP Workshop on GlowScript

A Summary of the September PICUP Workshop on GlowScript

by Bruce Sherwood and Ruth Chabay

Bruce took 25 minutes to give a tour of the Help at to show the variety of things that can be done with VPython beyond the basic capabilities that are used by students. There are three pull-down menus in the Help. "Choose a 3D object" takes you to the details of the basic graphic "primitives" (box, sphere, etc.). "Work with 3D objects"  includes information about color, textures, widgets (e.g. buttons and sliders), graphs, etc. "Canvases/Events" describes the 3D "canvas" in which the 3D objects appear and explains how to handle mouse and keyboard events. The extensively commented program
includes many advanced features, useful for instructors who want to write programs to vivify concepts, but overkill for students, especially user interface capabilities such as buttons and sliders.
Next Ruth Chabay talked for about 50 minutes about how she handles computation in the intro course. She introduces a very small number of key programming concepts, in particular order of operations, variables, while loops, and "=" meaning "assign". She writes short GlowScript VPython programs in class to calculate things and encourages students to use it rather than a calculator on homework and on tests, thereby giving students more time on task to become familiar with the tool. A particular win is that vector calculations are much easier than on a calculator. 
Recently she has been using for student activities using VPython. With an inexpensive subscription cost, instructors can easily access student programs and leave comments or suggested changes to the student's code. Here is an example, the initial introduction to students:
Another advantage of the environment is the juxtaposition of instructions and programming, integrated on the web page.
Bruce Sherwood wrote an interactive GlowScript VPython program that vivifies for those new to programming the concepts of variables and loops:
Here is an AJP article on integrating computational modeling into the intro physics course: