Review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2016

PhET Interactive Simulations

Massive cache of excellent (and free!) science and math simulations

Subjects & skills
  • Math
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Covers a huge range of topics across grades and accomplishes in the browser what might otherwise require tons of time and lab equipment.

Cons: Not as compelling as real-world simulations, the design is somewhat dated, and many tools require Java.

Bottom Line: Instantly add meaningful lab experiences to math and science classrooms for exactly $0? It's tough to beat that.

There's no shortage of ways to use PhET simulations in (or out of) the classroom. Effectively, any time you'd use a static PowerPoint slide or textbook image to demonstrate a concept, it's worth checking PhET to see if there's an interactive version. Chances are high there is already one on the site. There are also virtual versions of common lab experiences, and it might be worth using the simulation if you're short on class time or resources. Even if you have really great videos of experiments, the interactivity of these simulations will contribute so much to your lessons that it's hard not to use both. 

Especially for science teachers struggling with 45-minute class times, PhET can be a great way for students to experience labs at home. There are hundreds of complete lesson plans and materials using the site's simulations, which you can download and use as-is or remix for your needs. Just be sure to share your modifications with the rest of the community! 

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PhET Interactive Simulations is a huge collection of virtual science experiments, demonstrations, and visualizations for dozens of math and science topics (from kindergarten through graduate school). Each tool allows students to control a variety of parameters for each concept, tinkering and exploring and probing relationships all from the safety and comfort of a computer. The results are displayed in real time, often with relevant data to make the outcomes even more clear. All simulations are rendered in HTML5, Flash, or Java, and updates are ongoing to bring them up to modern specifications. 

Every simulation is accompanied by a large cache of teacher- and expert-created classroom resources including lab guides, homework, and assessments. Further, every tool and many teacher resources are available in dozens of languages, so there are plenty of opportunities to give English language learners the same deep experiences as native English speakers. 

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Lab experiments and demonstrations have been a staple of math and science since the dawn of time for a very good reason: They promote lasting retention of otherwise difficult-to-understand concepts. A hundred years of learning and cognition research also have shown that when learners actively control, tinker with, and push the boundaries of live experiences, the learning is even deeper and more meaningful. In that way, PhET is a juggernaut for learning. These tools can illuminate some of the very toughest topics in math and science in ways that paragraphs of text, equations, and textbook pictures just can't touch. 

In addition to some dated designs that can distract from otherwise excellent simulations, some of the tools are a bit too closed-ended and could benefit from additional controls. These both may be due to limitations of the technology when the tools were designed, so as tools are updated to modern standards, expect better-looking sims and more freedom across the library. 

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Every simulation is carefully created to represent a real-world experience with easy-to-use controls and clear inputs and outputs. The design is pretty dated, but the learning engagement potential is still very real.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Experimentation and tinkering are some of the absolute best ways to form meaningful and lasting cognitive constructs, and these simulations cover a huge range of phenomena for each discipline. It's a treasure trove of excellent learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The amount of support offered with each simulation is astounding. Dozens of lessons translated into dozens of languages accompany every interactive tool, and there's loads of training and resources available for teachers.

Teacher Reviews

(See all 1 reviews) (1 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Noor A. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Great platform. Covers a large collection of important subjects for all ages

Amazing website. great tool to contrast the prediction and the result and explain things. it gives me a chance to explain to students why things work the way they do.

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