The Best Way to Use PhET Science Simulations

June 29, 2023 2 Comments

Are you looking for a way to make science lessons more engaging for your students? Look no further than PhET Science Simulations! These free, online simulations offer an interactive learning experience for students. These simulations allow students to explore and interact with concepts in physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and more. By taking advantage of this innovative resource, teachers can create a classroom experience that encourages self-discovery.

Want a ZERO prep way to use PhET Simulations? Check out these resources!

What are PhET Science Simulations?

PhET Science Simulations are a free, online resource developed by the University of Colorado Boulder. Currently, there are over 50 simulations available on the site. These interactive simulations bring concepts in physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and more to life in a fun and engaging way. The simulations are interactive and encourage self-discovery, allowing students to explore and interact with the material. And, with PhET Science Simulations, teachers can create a classroom experience that is both immersive and educational.

The Benefits of Using PhET Simulations

PhET Science Simulations offer numerous advantages to teachers and students. Firstly, they make learning enjoyable and engaging. Students explore and interact with the material in a way that promotes self-discovery. Additionally, students gain high level content knowledge. By manipulating the simulations, students can investigate the material and acquire data to build scientific explanations. Finally, they are free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection, making them a valuable resource for teachers and students.

Which grade levels and content areas can PhET simulations be used for?

PhET Science Simulations are suitable for a wide range of grade levels and content areas. Teachers can use these simulations for students in elementary school through high school, and for any subject from physics and chemistry to biology and earth science. The simulations are designed to be used by students of all ages and abilities. Additionally, the simulations are versatile. So, teachers can customize lessons using these simulations to fit the needs of their classroom.

Supporting Multilingual Students

PhET Science Simulations are a great resource for multilingual students. By using these interactive simulations, students can build background knowledge prior to using complex scientific language. Therefore, language barriers don’t hinder student language. With PhET Science Simulations, teachers can create a learning experience that is both engaging and educational, regardless of their students’ language or learning ability.

To learn more about best practices for teaching science vocabulary, click here.

How to Use PhET Science Simulations

PhET Science simulations are a great way to facilitate meaningful science learning. But, how do you make the most of these simulations?

When is the best time to use PhET Simulations?

There are two distinct point in the lesson sequence when these simulations are most valuable. First, use the simulation during the beginning of lesson sequence for students to discover core science concepts. Then, use them again later in the lesson sequence to help clear up any misconceptions and provide more detailed information about the topic. PhET simulations create an interactive learning environment that lets students explore ideas from multiple angles and strengthen their understanding.

Zoomed in image with blurred background that shows students working on laptop computers.
PhET Simulations can be used at the beginning of your lesson sequence to introduce concepts, or to explain content to students.

Using PhET Science Simulations to Introduce Concepts

When using PhET Science simulations at the beginning of a lesson, it’s important to give students general questions that will guide them in using the simulation. This helps to ensure they get the most out of their experience and become more engaged with the material. By providing guidance in this way, you can encourage students to actively explore their environment and draw their own conclusions based on what they observe.

Using PhET Science Simulations to Explain Concepts

Also, it’s a good idea to use PhET simulations to build deeper understanding of concepts. There are a variety of ways to do this.

For example, the teacher could provide more targeted questions to help students further explore and understand the simulation. Alternatively, teachers can use the simulation to teach vocabulary and address any misconceptions that may arise. It’s best to do this type of activity in a whole group setting. This allows all students benefit from groups discussions. However, it may work better to build an understanding of vocabulary in a small group setting.

To learn more about how to teach science vocabulary, check out this post.

Avoiding Spoilers – What Not to Do

Unfortunately, many teachers use the simulation to confirm what students have already been taught. For example, teachers give a lecture on the material. Then, students use the simulation to confirm what the teacher described during the lecture.

This method is far less effective than using a discovery-based approach. Why?

Young female looking through a magnifying class so that her eye is enlarged to the size where it is taking up her entire face. She is looking through bushes.
It’s a good idea to use PhET simulations to introduce students to science concepts rather than front-loading the concepts. This encourages student curiosity and discovery.

When teachers front-load information, this destroys student curiosity. Often, we call this a “spoiler” in a science class because its reminiscent of when someone spoils the plot of a show or a movie for a viewer.

Instead, using the simulation earlier in your less sequence is a better approach for fostering curiosity in your classroom.

Zero Prep: PhET Science Simulation Guides

I have created a line of PhET Simulation Guides that are perfect for teachers to use in the classroom. These guides require no prior preparation, and they provide step-by-step instructions on how to use the simulation to learn science concepts.

Again, these resources are ZERO Prep. That means they are ready to post in Google Classroom. And, they are easy to use with platforms like Canvas.

I wrote each simulation guide for a specific grade band. So, I designed them to meet the need of your students. Furthermore, I designed them with the NGSS in mind.

Simulation Guides: What are they?

My PhET Simulation Guides are perfect for any classroom! Written on a Google document, the guide are ready to pos to Google Classroom or other learning management systems like Canvas. The guides include detailed visuals to help students understand the simulation, as well as guided questions and an easy-to-use key for teachers. They are designed to make learning about science concepts easy. And, they are written specifically for the targeted age group in student-friendly terms.

High School Simulation Guides 

Image of PhET Simulations and Guide on a laptop.  Title says Simulation Guide: PhET ions and atomic mass
This PhET Simulation teaches students all about the relationship between isotopes and atomic mass. Grab the ready-to-use Google Doc for your high school chemistry class today.

Middle School Simulation Guides

Elementary Simulation Guides  

Erin Sadler

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  • JJeffers July 5, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    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.

    • Erin Sadler July 6, 2018 at 7:39 am

      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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