Writing and argumentation are critical to both professional physics and physics education. They are both necessary to the practices of professional science like paper writing and peer review, and are increasingly emphasized in science education standards and best practices.1,2 Despite this, the skill of making an extended argument in writing is often overlooked in physics classrooms, apart from certain isolated practices like lab notebooks or mathematical proofs.
Computation is also critical to both professional physics and, increasingly, physics education.3 Over the past 30 years computation has grown into a common, and often indispensable, part of the physics classroom. Visual, interactive tools like PhET simulations, Easy Java Simulations, and VPython,4–6 have steadily lowered the costs and barriers to entry for computational modeling, and recent pushes to expand students’ opportunities to learn programming7 have only added momentum to this trend. Now, with the advent of new computational technology we can use computation to facilitate writing and argumentation in physics, through the use of what are known as computational essays.
What is a computational essay?