I have just walked out of a 48 minute lesson with my year 7 class, where we began looking at how forces work by playing Angry Birds Space. I have got to say that it was interesting to run a lesson like this (I have had/seen the idea to model parabolas in Angry Birds before, but never had the opportunity to implement it in a classroom setting). To get students predicting as to where a bird was going to land when we let it go was great, then to discuss the forces at play and how some forces are stronger than others was also pretty amazing.
I own Angry Birds Space on my iDevice, but played it for free online so we could put it on the data projector for all to see. I have never actually played Angry Birds Space before, but have played plenty of Angry Birds in my time, many of the students were the same, however we did have a couple of experts who had played quite a bit of Space. So for students who hadn't played the first thing we did was compare what happens when you fire a bird straight off into the distance (or straight up in the air). "It doesn't come back, normally they do" was one comment, and captured what was happening perfectly. So from there we got to talk about forces being a push or a pull. We also got to discuss that objects that are stationary have forces that are in balance and will stay that way until the forces get out of balance (by a rogue flying bird).
At one stage one poor little piggy was in a bubble in space, so we got to pop his bubble and he froze!!! So I asked why did that happen? Their response was "there is no air in space" which, while true does not fully explain why the pig froze, but it is a good starting point for future discussion about gravity impacting on air and keeping it closer to the planet and that is how atmosphere 'forms'.
All in all I feel that it was a very successful beginning, how we move on from here though I am not entirely sure. I have an idea that may, or may not work very well. I will get the students to propose a game they would like to explore the forces in, be it on their mobile device or the web. I will then check each of them out to make sure they are suitable and it will be the students responsibility, either individually or as a group, to share their findings about forces in that game with the rest of the class. I will also put together a short sample list of games that are free and have a decent physics engine for those who don't know where to start. I think their final task will be something along the lines of explaining how the physical forces in the game make the game playable, how they can be used to 'win' the game and what would happen if some of those forces were removed or altered.
List of possible games (not accurate or complete but just ideas of where they are so I can refer back later)
Angry Birds (pretty much any of them)
http://www.coolmath-games.com (many games on there would work)
Plenty of iOS games I have played and cannot remember the names eg World of Goo
Westpoint Bridge Builder
MinecraftEdu (of course :D)
Just throwing ideas down as they come, sorry about the garbled mess of thoughts, I am sure there will be more updates coming on this project in the future. Thanks for reading, if you have any suggestions (including suggested games) please drop them in the comments section below.