‘PhET’ simulations – powerful tools to visualize science

There are many great digital simulations out there that can help students visualize scientific phenomena. One of the original repositories of such simulations is that offered by the University of Colorado under the moniker ‘PhET’

The concise description of the project comes from the PhET site itself;

‘Founded in 2002 by Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman, the PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder creates free interactive math and science simulations. PhET sims are based on extensive education research and engage students through an intuitive, game-like environment where students learn through exploration and discovery.’

The collection continues to grow and many of the original flash based simulations have now been converted to html 5 so that they will run all on all kinds of devices.

A quick overview of what these simulations are and how they can be used in the contemporary STEM classroom can be seen in the video below.

Of course, these simulations are not meant to replace traditional hands on experiments but are an effective supplement to traditional activities in order to augment understanding.

One great use of these simulations is to use them to elicit and interpret students thinking about scientific concepts. By asking students to hypothesize about the outcome of changing variables, these simulations can act as very expedient formative assessment probes.

One of my absolute favourites has to be the quasi-legendary ‘John Travoltage’ simulation  – enjoy!


About Michael A. Quinn 9 Articles
Originally from the U.K. but now residing in Canada where I work as a Science & Technology educational consultant. I have an insatiable love and curiosity for science and passionately believe that scientific literacy is absolutely vital to produce citizens that can think critically.

2 Comments on ‘PhET’ simulations – powerful tools to visualize science

  1. Was first introduced to PhET by Vanier’s Kevin Lenton (also member of SALTISE, which pushes active learning and technopedagogical appropriation in STEM and other disciplines).
    Something which is really neat is that all of these modules, many of which are now in HTML5, are on GitHub. So they can also serve as a basis for other HTML5 projects.
    Been experimenting with embedding PhET content in eBooks. Rather easy to do with iBooks Author, including in EPUB3 format.
    And speaking of PhET embedding, do you know H5P? They make it easy to embed HTML5 content in all sorts of Content Management Systems, including Course Management Systems.
    Of course, a cool project can be to share these things in a local wireless environment using a Raspberry Pi which isn’t connected to the Internet. That way, you can have learners using online content without the distraction of the whole Web.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks so much for these insights Alex.
      Have just spent some time checking out H5P and it looks very interesting so thanks so much for that tip.
      I’m very interested in your project to embed PheT in eBooks . . . I’m going to have to pick that brain of yours,
      Thanks again for your comments

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