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written by Chris Bires
published by the PhET
This virtual lab was developed by a high school teacher specifically for use with the PhET simulation "Motion in 2D". It provides explicit direction for using the simulation to explore vector quantities, vector addition, and calculating resultants. In the last half of the activity, students demonstrate understanding by performing specific calculations, then using the simulation to check their work. The lesson includes printable student data tables.

The associated simulation (which must be running to complete this activity) is available from PhET at: Motion in 2D.

Please note that this resource requires Java Applet Plug-in.
Editor's Note: Why we like it:  This lesson provides guided instruction to help students stay on task as they explore vector quantities with the simulation. It then takes the learner to the next level:  can they apply what they learned to perform the calculations to find vector resultants?
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Motion in Two Dimensions
= 2D Acceleration
= 2D Velocity
Education Foundations
- Assessment
= Formative Assessment
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Modeling
- Technology
= Multimedia
Mathematical Tools
- Vector Algebra
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
= Problem/Problem Set
= Student Guide
- Assessment Material
= Test
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Access Rights:
Free access
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
Rights Holder:
Physics Technology Education Project
acceleration vector, resultant vector, velocity vector
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created February 5, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
February 5, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
August 4, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

2. The Nature of Mathematics

2A. Patterns and Relationships
  • 9-12: 2A/H1. Mathematics is the study of quantities and shapes, the patterns and relationships between quantities or shapes, and operations on either quantities or shapes. Some of these relationships involve natural phenomena, while others deal with abstractions not tied to the physical world.

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.

9. The Mathematical World

9B. Symbolic Relationships
  • 9-12: 9B/H4. Tables, graphs, and symbols are alternative ways of representing data and relationships that can be translated from one to another.
  • 9-12: 9B/H5. When a relationship is represented in symbols, numbers can be substituted for all but one of the symbols and the possible value of the remaining symbol computed. Sometimes the relationship may be satisfied by one value, sometimes by more than one, and sometimes not at all.
9C. Shapes
  • 6-8: 9C/M9. Relationships exist among the angles between the sides of triangle and the lengths of those sides. For example, when two sides of a triangle are perpendicular, the sum of the squares of the lengths of those sides is equal to the square of the third side of the triangle.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 9-12: 11B/H1a. A mathematical model uses rules and relationships to describe and predict objects and events in the real world.

12. Habits of Mind

12B. Computation and Estimation
  • 9-12: 12B/H2. Find answers to real-world problems by substituting numerical values in simple algebraic formulas and check the answer by reviewing the steps of the calculation and by judging whether the answer is reasonable.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

High School — Number and Quantity (9-12)

Vector and Matrix Quantities (9-12)
  • N-VM.2 (+) Find the components of a vector by subtracting the coordinates of an initial point from the coordinates of a terminal point.
  • N-VM.4.b Given two vectors in magnitude and direction form, determine the magnitude and direction of their sum.
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
C. Bires, (PhET, Boulder, 2008), WWW Document, (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141).
C. Bires, PhET Teacher Activities: Vectors Simulations Lab, (PhET, Boulder, 2008), <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141>.
APA Format
Bires, C. (2010, August 4). PhET Teacher Activities: Vectors Simulations Lab. Retrieved February 22, 2020, from PhET: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141
Chicago Format
Bires, Chris. PhET Teacher Activities: Vectors Simulations Lab. Boulder: PhET, August 4, 2010. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141 (accessed 22 February 2020).
MLA Format
Bires, Chris. PhET Teacher Activities: Vectors Simulations Lab. Boulder: PhET, 2008. 4 Aug. 2010. 22 Feb. 2020 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Chris Bires", Title = {PhET Teacher Activities: Vectors Simulations Lab}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2020}, Number = {22 February 2020}, Month = {August 4, 2010}, Year = {2008} }
Refer Export Format

%A Chris Bires
%T PhET Teacher Activities:  Vectors Simulations Lab
%D August 4, 2010
%C Boulder
%U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141
%O application/ms-word

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%A Bires, Chris
%D August 4, 2010
%T PhET Teacher Activities:  Vectors Simulations Lab
%V 2020
%N 22 February 2020
%8 August 4, 2010
%9 application/ms-word
%U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/contributions/view/3141

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PhET Teacher Activities: Vectors Simulations Lab:

Requires PhET Simulation: Motion in 2D

A link to the PhET simulation Motion in 2D, which must be running in order to complete this activity.

relation by Caroline Hall

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