Website review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2017


Virtual labs epitomize the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

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Science, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Teachers receive real-time alerts about where their students are struggling.

Cons: Currently, simulations are only available for some of the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas.

Bottom Line: Earth, life, and physical science simulations coach kids through the NGSS Practices.

Inq-ITS is best used when the activities are integrated into a middle school science curriculum; they do a good job of highlighting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). By using these activities throughout the year, students will see that NGSS Cross-Cutting Concepts (such as cause and effect) and Science and Engineering Practices (such as analyzing data) occur in all the scientific disciplines. Additionally, teachers and students can watch these skills grow as the school year progresses. 

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Inq-ITS is a collection of virtual labs for middle schoolers, including topics such as Plate Tectonics, Natural Selection, Forces & Motion, and Phase Changes. Students learn this content through virtual simulations that allow them to design and conduct their own investigations. The virtual labs are broken into four sections described as the Phases of Inquiry: Hypothesis, Collect Data, Analyze Data, and Explain Findings. 

Each virtual lab begins with a scenario and a question such as "Why does a population of Slinquettes have different fur colors?" There are multiple variables that students can manipulate, including mutations, temperature, and amount of foliage, for example. Kids make selections to build a hypothesis; support is embedded if students don't include an independent and dependent variable in their hypothesis or if their hypothesis doesn't answer their question. Students use the simulation to run trials and gather evidence. This is followed by an analysis section, where kids make a claim about whether their observations support their hypothesis and select the trials that support their claim. The virtual lab culminates with an online Claim-Evidence-Reasoning form that helps students construct an explanation of the phenomena.

Inq-ITS truly embodies the three-dimensional nature of the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices; students discover the science content while engaging in inquiry. Emphasized throughout are opportunities for students to create explanations and modify those explanations in light of new evidence. For example, many students think that adding more green leaves will lead to the presence of Slinquettes with green fur. Inq-ITS has a structure that encourages kids to experiment more and discover that the new green trait only shows up in the presence of a mutation. Piece by piece kids are coached through the the Practices: designing investigations, using evidence to make claims, and backing up those claims with evidence and reasoning.

Similar to products such as ExploreLearning Gizmos, Inq-ITS helps teachers track student progress through reports. Inq-ITS reports focus on inquiry practices such as hypothesis formulation, investigation design, and data analysis. Inq-ITS has also taken reporting a step further with real-time alerts. Notes such as "Jill is changing too many variables at once" pop up while students are working. This helps teachers quickly identify who needs one-on-one support.

Overall Rating


Easy-to-use cartoon simulations provide nice visual representations of scientific phenomena. Students drive the investigations, selecting which variables they would like to manipulate. 


Scientific inquiry is truly embedded in Inq-ITS labs, enhancing student understanding of disciplinary content. Kids can learn from their mistakes and modify their explanations as they go.


Teachers can choose to assign activities with or without the dinosaur tutor Rex. Rex gives students immediate feedback, coaching them through inquiry tasks.

Common Sense reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Sarah B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Red River High School
Grand Forks, United States
Virtual labs that allow student exploration of many concepts and provide teacher instant feedback on student understanding of the inquiry process
I liked how the labs offered were concepts that a typical classroom doesn’t have materials for or are difficult to replicate in a classroom setting. The labs help students find focus in their experiments and not test random things. I do wish there was more freedom in what students could experiment rather than a predetermined goal. There could also be more real world application or some tie in to real research, industry, etc.
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