Background of PhET
PhET is a collection of more than 100 research-based interactive computer simulations developed by the University of Colorado, Boulder. The name "PhET" was originally an acronym for "Physics Education Technology." However, the PhET site now includes a broader suite of simulations not limited to just physics, but with chemistry, math, biology and earth sciences being supported as well.
One of the main goals of PhET is to provide an exploratory environment where students can learn and engage with math and sciences through animated, interactive and game-like situations. Although, PhET simulations are primarily developed for and tested with university and high school students, they are becoming increasingly popular in lower grades as a fun way to introduce students to STEM.
All of the PhET simulations are open source and free for instructors and students to use. These simulations specifically provide an experience to help further concepts of underlying science, and visually expose students to real-life phenomena with illustrations that make the invisible come alive. The simulations can be easily run through the PhET website or downloaded to a computer.
Using PhET in the Classroom
PhysPort highlights common uses and best practices of PhET simulations for College Physics instructors. Here are some examples:
- Lecture: You can lead a class discussion, in which students ask questions about the simulation and you engage with them directly through conversations or polls. The simulations can also be used to help students predict outcomes of an interactive class demonstration.
- In Class Student Discussions (or Recitation Sessions): You can design short activities focused on the simulations for student groups to work through in class or recitation. These activities can be used either to introduce a new topic or to help students master key topics after lecture.
- Homework Assignments: You can assign simulation-based homework questions as part of either pre-class preparation or post-class follow-up where students are required to dig deeper to assess their level of understanding on a particular topic.
- Labs: Simulations can be used in a laboratory setting with a hands-on experiment. Students can be asked to review phenomena through one of the simulations after gathering data or, when appropriate, before an experiment is completed.
PhET simulations are carefully designed and tested to be easy for students to use. The incorporation of the simulations into a course facilitates student engagement in scientist-like exploration. Students are challenged by being put in settings where an instructor is not present to provide guidance. The PhET site has a vast amount of instructor resources available. The following links may help you get started.
- University of Colorado’s Guide on “Using PhET in College Lecture”
- PhysPort’s overview of PhET Interactive Simulations, which includes an example of class materials, a video of activities, curriculum outline, and other resources.
- Dr. Michael Dubson’s Virtual Workshop for New Faculty on PhET Interactive Simulations at the University of Colorado Boulder.