Using PhET Simulations in Your NGSS Classroom

Developing and Using Models Google Apps NGSS NGSS Newbies Science and Engineering Practices

I can’t recommend using PhET Simulations in your NGSS classroom enough.  PhET Simulations are a free and valuable tool that is available and easy to use with Chromebooks or other devices.  PhET simulations can be used as a type of model by students in upper elementary through high school

PhET Simulaton Blog Post

Types of Models

Developing and Using Models is one of the Science and Engineering Practices of the NGSS.  Models can include:

  • diagrams
  • drawings
  • physical replicas
  • mathematical representations
  • analogies
  • computer simulations.

The Modeling Requirement

Modeling is a fantastic resource that is often underutilized in the science classroom.  While many teachers guide students in making models, students are often following a list of instructions to replicate a model that has been developed by the teacher.

NGSS requires that students start to do the following by THIRD GRADE: (See requirements by grade level)

  • Identify the limitations of models.
  • Develop and/or use models to describe and/or predict phenomena.
  • Use a model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a natural or designed system.

Middle School Expectations

By the end of middle school, students should be able to do all of the following by the end of 8th grade:

  • Evaluate the limitations of a model.
  • Develop or modify a model to show what would happen if a variable or component is changed.
  • Develop a model to predict phenomena.
  • Develop a model to generate data.

WHAT?!?! That used to (and it often still does) intimidate me, especially because many of us work in districts where students are not receiving specific science instruction until 6th or 7th grade.  But that is a topic for another day.

PhET Simulations are useful, effective and easy way allow students to use models in your classroom.  While it is important that students generate their own models in your classroom, it is also important that they understand how to use models as tools.  PhET simulations are perfect for this!  They have numerous simulations for the following courses

PhET Simulations are great because:

  • They are highly engaging.  Students love to use them.
  • They allow students to manipulate variables.
  • They provides students with fantastic examples of models that still have limitations.  This allows you to teach students to identify the limitations of a model.
  • These simulations can be used to help students to explore new concepts or study a concept they are already familiar with in greater depth.
  • Many of their simulations are able to run on Chromebooks and tablets and even student phones!*

*Some require Java, but the PhET team is always converting sims to HTML so that they can run on other devices.

I use PhET simulations in my classroom regularly.  I create worksheets using google docs and have students answer their questions on their Chromebooks and submit them through google classroom.  There are activities and guides available on the PhET website.

Resources I Have Created

The simulations are free to use, but I have developed my own activities to go with them.  These are aligned to meet the intent of the NGSS and have been adapted to serve specific grade level standards.  Here is a list of resources that I currently have available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site that uses PHET simulations:

Elementary School

Middle School

High School

I am adding new resources all of the time.

If you would like more information about PhET simulation please visit:

PhET Interactive Simulations
University of Colorado Boulder

What questions do you have about using PhET simulations in your classroom?

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2 thoughts on “Using PhET Simulations in Your NGSS Classroom”

  1. PhET is excellent, but some simulations are bit complex for middle/high school kids. Also checkout SimPop for free online science simulations. Kids enjoy tinkering with these simulations, and that’s a great way to explore science.

    1. I actually haven’t found them to be too complicated. They can go into more detail than I would like to cover, but I use guided lessons with screenshots and that is really helpful. I will also check out SimPop though. Thanks for the suggestion.

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