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How to Teach with PhET

PhET simulations are designed to be flexible and can be used with many different educational contexts and styles. They can be incorporated into lectures using ConcepTests, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, or other forms of demonstrations. They can be incorporated into homework activities in which students interact with the simulations on their own and answer numerical, multiple-choice, or essay questions about what they discover. They can be incorporated into laboratories in which they supplement or even replace hands-on lab equipment.

Research shows that PhET simulations work best when they are incorporated into guided-inquiry activities with minimal directions. The PhET Activity Guidelines gives suggestions for how to best use PhET sims in your teaching. In addition, on the web page for each simulation, there is a section called "Tips for Teachers" which often contains a "teacher's guide" with detailed information about the features of that particular simulation, including a guide to non-obvious controls, important modeling notes and simplifications used in the simulation, insights into student thinking, and suggestions for use.

Using PhET Simulations in Lecture

Using PhET sims in lecture
PhET simulations can be used for demonstrations in lecture if you have a computer and a projector. If you don't have internet access in your classroom, you can download the entire PhET site or individual simulations for offline use. To ensure that the controls are visible to students in the back of the room, you should set the screen resolution on your computer to 1024x768.

PhET simulations can be used to replace or supplement lecture demonstrations with real equipment. Some advantages of using PhET simulations over real equipment are that they are typically easier for all the students to see in a lecture, they are typically easier to modify on the spot so that you can respond to student questions about what might happen if you change the experiment, and they allow students to see things that are not visible or apparent with real equipment. For example, in a typical standing wave demo with a transverse wave on a string, the string moves too fast for students to see that the pattern is caused by each point on the string moving up and down, but this behavior is readily apparent in the Wave on a String simulation .

Just as with real equipment, PhET simulations work best if they are incorporated into ConcepTests or Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, where students are asked to predict the outcome of demonstrations rather than just passively watching.

For more ideas on how to use PhET simulations in lecture, see the PhET guide to using sims in lecture, the PhET activities database , or the photoelectic effect example.


Using PhET Simulations in Homework

Using PhET sims in homework
If students have access to computers at home or in a computer lab in school, you can assign homework problems in which they work with the simulation on their own and answer questions about it. Research shows that PhET simulations work best when they are incorporated into guided-inquiry activities with minimal directions. Questions should be open-ended and phrased in ways that focus on the content rather than the controls (e.g. 'Based on your observations, write down a definition of electric field' rather than 'What happens when you change the frequency?'). On the other hand, it is usually not enough to just tell students to go home and play with the simulation; some specific questions are generally necessary to help motivate students and focus their exploration.

For more ideas on how to use PhET simulations in homework, see the PhET guide to using sims in homework, the PhET activities database , or the photoelectic effect example.


Using PhET Simulations in Lab

Using PhET sims in lab
PhET simulations can be incorporated into lab by simply replacing the equipment with a simulation in a lab you already do, by developing an entirely new lab that takes advantage of the unique features of the simulation, by using the simulation in addition to real equipment, or anything in between.

For more ideas on how to use PhET simulations in lab, see the PhET activities database , the circuit construction example, or the pedulum lab.






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