Why I Switched to PhET Interactive Simulation Labs

Picture this: It’s Friday afternoon and you have just finished a great week of teaching. Everyone is getting ready to leave, but you are already thinking about Monday. You don’t want to spend the weekend preparing for next week’s classes so you stay until you have the first day of the week planned. Double whammy, Monday is also lab day for 10th grade physics and you will be starting a new unit on electricity and electric circuits. That means organising all of the equipment for your series and parallel resistors lab.

Do you have enough cables?, Where are the power supplies?, Are the bulbs burnt out?, Who took all of your switches and never put them back?, Don’t three of the multimeters need new batteries? Not to mention, because of the coronavirus distance restrictions you can’t really do group labs anymore. That is when you remember that a colleague told you about PhET Simulations from the University of Colorado.

Learning about Energy Conservation with the PhET Skate Park Simulation

PhET simulations are free to everyone and have so many benefits. Students enjoy them because they are visual, intuitive and make connections to real world situations. Most are now developed in HTML5 so they run right in the web browser of your tablet or computer; no apps or programs to download and install. The simulations are designed and developed based on research into how students learn. But what I like most about them is their interactivity. Students can easily manipulate the simulations to see the relationship between the different variables they are exploring. The results are accurate and replicable, allowing students to explore, collect data and draw conclusions from first-hand experiences.

In the Circuit Construction Kit simulations, students can add and remove resistors and directly observe changes in bulb brightness, current and the voltage drop across various circuit elements. In the Pendulum Lab simulation, students manipulate the length, mass, angle of displacement and even the gravity to see what factors affect its period. The Energy Skate Park simulation has several different graphical representations of the skater’s motion allowing the user to make connections between height, velocity, potential energy and kinetic energy. Students can even build their own skate park to further reinforce their observations.

With my PhET simulation teaching materials to guide you and no lab equipment to set up, you can relax and enjoy your weekend. And you’ll be ready to meet your students in class with some engaging new inquiry-based activities.


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