Bring STEAM to Life with PhET

Posted by: Ariel Paul and Kate Salmon

August 23rd, 2016

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Millions of teachers around the world are using PhET interactive simulations in their classrooms. These learning resources are available for free online, and cover a wide range of concepts in science and math. You would be hard pressed to find a teaching or technology conference where teachers aren’t excited to share their sim strategies or visit the PhET booth to say thank you.PHET_273x268

“PhET levels the playing field for scientific understanding,” says Developer John Blanco. By representing complex ideas and giving students instant feedback on their interactions, PhET makes everything from fractions to voltage more tangible and understandable. Using rich, dynamic visualizations, PhET sims allow students to see invisible phenomena like molecular motion. Developed by experts at the University of Colorado, the sims aim to improve STEM literacy worldwide by making high quality resources for every classroom.

Self-Guided Learning

PhET Designer Amy Hanson was a high school chemistry teacher for 11 years and loved using PhET. She was able to use applicable sims once or twice in every unit, and the enthusiasm was palpable whenever students got to work with the sims. “I would give students open-ended questions and just let them explore,” she says. The guided inquiry approach engaged students with an authentic scientific experience. “The sims allow for rapid inquiry cycles where students can ask and answer their own questions. Students learn the concepts in a deeper and fuller way because they’re building their own understanding.”

The value of intrinsically motivated, self-directed learning has been demonstrated everywhere from international studies to classroom anecdotes. We know teachers are always eager to get their hands on new activities that allow students to drive their own learning. To help spread the word, we reached out on Twitter and asked teachers to share their favorite tips and tricks. As passionate educators and PhET advocates, they were more than happy to contribute.

Kim Vale
London, UK

“My year 7 class thoroughly enjoyed using the Circuit Construction Kit to learn about electrical currents. They were able to figure out for themselves what happens if you add too many batteries without damaging real equipment!’”


Brent Claydon
Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Math
Peterborough, ON

“I love how many of the sims can be used at the grade 9 & 10 level, but then can be returned to in the senior grades by using more of the options and information available to look at more complicated concepts. Several of the sims, like Balancing Equations, also contain tiered questions which will allow students of different ability levels to all experience success while using the same tool at the same time.”


Bree Barnett Dreyfuss
Physics, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences
Pleasanton, CA

“The John Travoltage simulation is a class favourite. It’s a simple way to demonstrate static charge through friction and why we get shocked by touching conductors like metal doorknobs. Since I don’t have carpet, I like to use this simulation to explain the phenomenon step by step. An added bonus is stalling in between steps as the electrons settle within Travolta. Students inevitably ask, ‘Why are the electrons along his back?’”


Saulo Oliveira
Lajedo, Brazil

I am a teacher in places that do not have financial resources to mount a laboratory of experimental chemistry. Acid-Base Solutions has helped solve this problem. The correlation between the macroscopic and microscopic levels in the analysis of chemical phenomena is fantastic. I have noticed a clear improvement in their understanding of the subject.”

While math and science classrooms have the most applications, PhET sims have been spotted everywhere from the art room to social studies. Teachers are using Area Builder and Color Vision to explore design concepts, and new applications are discovered every day. To see more teaching resources or share your own, visit the PhET website or the EdCite blog. Happy learning!

Ariel _ Kate Final

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