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published by the PhET
Available Languages: English, Spanish
This is an interactive simulation created to help beginners differentiate velocity and acceleration vectors.  The user can move a ball with the mouse or let the simulation move the ball in four modes of motion (two types of linear, simple harmonic, and circular). Two vectors are displayed -- one green and one blue. As the motion of the ball changes, the vectors also change. Which color represents velocity and which acceleration?

This item is part of a larger and growing collection of resources developed by the Physics Education Technology project (PhET), each designed to implement principles of physics education research.

Please note that this resource requires Java Applet Plug-in.
Editor's Note: This simulation was designed with improvements based on research of student interaction with the PhET resource "Ladybug Revolution". The authors added two new features for the beginning learner:  linear acceleration and harmonic motion. To supplement the simulation, we recommend the Physics Classroom tutorial "Vectors and Direction" and the teacher-created lesson, "Vectors Phet Lab" -- see links in Related Materials.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Motion in Two Dimensions
= 2D Acceleration
= 2D Velocity
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Free access
© 2007 University of Colorado, Physics Education Technology
Additional information is available.
acceleration, circular motion, motion, simple harmonic motion, two-dimensional motion, vectors, velocity
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created November 15, 2007 by Alea Smith
Record Updated:
August 18, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 15, 2007
Other Collections:

Next Generation Science Standards

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)
  • Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data. (6-8)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to introducing more detailed statistical analysis, the comparison of data sets for consistency, and the use of models to generate and analyze data. (9-12)
    • Analyze data using computational models in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims. (9-12)
Developing and Using Models (K-12)
  • Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. (9-12)
    • Use a model to provide mechanistic accounts of phenomena. (9-12)
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)
  • Mathematical and computational thinking at the 9–12 level builds on K–8 and progresses to using algebraic thinking and analysis, a range of linear and nonlinear functions including trigonometric functions, exponentials and logarithms, and computational tools for statistical analysis to analyze, represent, and model data. Simple computational simulations are created and used based on mathematical models of basic assumptions. (9-12)
    • Use mathematical representations of phenomena to describe explanations. (9-12)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 3-5: 4F/E1a. Changes in speed or direction of motion are caused by forces.
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

High School — Number and Quantity (9-12)

Vector and Matrix Quantities (9-12)
  • N-VM.1 (+) Recognize vector quantities as having both magnitude and direction. Represent vector quantities by directed line segments, and use appropriate symbols for vectors and their magnitudes (e.g., v, |v|, ||v||, v).
The Physics Classroom: Vectors and Direction (Author: Tom Henderson)
Date: 09/17/2012

As instructors, we may forget that certain representations (like vector arrows) seem like a foreign language to beginning students. This thoughtfully-crafted tutorial introduces vector diagrams in kid-friendly language and extends the learning to interactive practice problems with answers provided.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Kinematics: The Physics of Motion
Unit Title: Vectors

This very simple simulation can help beginners understand what vector arrows represent. It was designed by the PhET team to target specific areas of difficulty in student understanding of vectors. Learners can move a ball with the mouse or let the simulation control the ball in four modes of motion (two types of linear, simple harmonic, and circular). Two vectors are displayed -- one green and one blue. Which color represents velocity and which acceleration? This resource requires Java.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(PhET, Boulder, 2007), WWW Document, (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d).
PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D (PhET, Boulder, 2007), <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D. (2007, November 15). Retrieved June 17, 2024, from PhET: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d
Chicago Format
PhET. PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D. Boulder: PhET, November 15, 2007. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d (accessed 17 June 2024).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D. Boulder: PhET, 2007. 15 Nov. 2007. 17 June 2024 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {17 June 2024}, Month = {November 15, 2007}, Year = {2007} }
Refer Export Format

%T PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D %D November 15, 2007 %I PhET %C Boulder %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d %O application/java

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D November 15, 2007 %T PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D %I PhET %V 2024 %N 17 June 2024 %8 November 15, 2007 %9 application/java %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/motion-2d

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PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D:

Is Supplemented By The Physics Classroom: Vectors - Fundamentals and Operations

A self-directed tutorial for deeper exploration of vector direction, with problem sets and related animation.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Required By

An editor-recommended virtual lab, authored by a high school teacher specifically for use with the Motion in 2D simulation.

relation by Caroline Hall

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