PhET Interactive Simulations

developed by: PhET Interactive Simulations, University of Colorado - Boulder

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Modern / Quantum +3
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Lab  Homework  Studio

What? Open-ended game-like simulations with an intuitive interface and minimal text appropriate for a variety of class settings. Includes expert visual models that make the invisible visible and provide multiple representations, enabling scientist-like exploration and real-world connections.

Why? They are free and easy to incorporate into nearly any teaching environment or style. They are based on research into how students learn in general, student understanding of specific science concepts, and user interface design. Effective use of PhET simulations can lead to improved conceptual learning over traditional lectures, demonstrations, and labs.

Why not? PhET simulations might not be the best approach if your goal is for your students to learn to use real lab equipment, or if you don't have access to computers.

Example materials


Classroom video

Curriculum outline

Here is an example of how to incorporate PhET simulations into an introductory physics class:

(IC In Class Activity; CQ clicker questions; HW homework; Demo: teacher centered group discussion)

Semester 1

Unit 1: Introduction to Motion:

Moving Man: IC/CQ
Calculus Grapher: HW/CQ

Unit 2: More on motion and Measurement

Vector Addition: IC/CQ
Projectile motion: IC/CQ

Unit 3: Forces and the Laws of Motion Publishing skills: curve fit, drawing, tables

Forces and Motion: Two activities IC/CQ
Ramp- Force and Motion: Two activities IC/CQ
Maze Game: HW/CQ
Curve Fitting: HW

Unit 4: Work, Energy, Momentum and Collisions

Energy Skate Park: Four activities IC/CQ
Masses and Springs: IC/CQ
Collision: HW

Unit 5: Circular Motion and Semester Project

Pendulum: HW/CQ
Gravity Force Lab: IC/CQ
Pendulum: HW
Ladybug 2D: HW/CQ
Ladybug Revolution: HW/CQ
Masses and Springs: HW
Balancing Act: HW

Semester 2

Unit 1: Heat and Thermodynamics

Friction: Demo
States of matter: IC/CQ

Unit 2: Waves: Introduction to light and sound

Waves on a String: IC/CQ
Fourier-Making Waves: Three activities IC/CQ/HW
Sound: IC/CQ
Wave Interference: IC/CQ
Resonance: IC/CQ
Bending Light: IC
Geometric optics: IC/CQ

Unit 3: Electric and Magnetic Forces and Fields

Faraday’s Electromagnet Lab: IC/CQ
Electric Field Hockey with Charges and Fields: IC/CQ
Balloons and Static Electricity with John Travoltage: Demo / CQ Gravity and Orbits: CQ

Unit 4: Fluid Mechanics, Semester Projects

Density: IC
Buoyancy: IC
Balloons and Buoyancy: IC/CQ
Under Pressure: IC/HW/CQ
Estimation: HW

Unit 5: Current, Resistance, Circuits, and Circuit Elements

Charges and Fields: Demo
Capacitor Lab: HW
Circuit Construction Kit: Three activities IC/CQ

The PhET website has more example curriculum outlines, e.g for undergraduate physics and high school physics.

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Making real-world connections
  • Using multiple representations
Can be adapted for:
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Lab skills
  • Designing experiments

Instructor effort required

  • Low

Resources required

  • Computers for students

Developer's website: PhET
Intro Article: N. Podolefsky, K. Perkins, and W. Adams, Factors promoting engaged exploration with computer simulations, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 6 (2), 020117 (2010).

You can find over 100 simulations available for free on the PhET website.

PhET also has an activity database where PhET team members and teachers from around the world can contribute teaching activities using PhET simulations. The database contains hundreds of activities that you can download for free, including labs, homework assignments, lectures, activities, concept questions, and more.

Silver Validation
This is the second highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 2 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 4 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication

Compatible Methods

Peer Instruction Tutorials in Introductory Physics Just-in-Time Teaching +47 more...

Related Workshop

PhET Interactive Simulations

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