Website review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2016

PhET Interactive Simulations

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

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
Community rating
Based on 7 reviews
Privacy rating
22%| Warning Expert evaluation by Common Sense
K–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Math, Science, Critical Thinking

Take a look inside

1 video | 5 images

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's 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! 

Continue reading Show less

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. There's also a paid app available (for iOS and Android) that includes a collection of HTML5 simulations.

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. 

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. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

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 Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Experimentation and tinkering are some of the 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 Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

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.

Common Sense reviewer
Galen McQuillen Researcher

Community Rating

(See all 7 reviews) (7 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Tony D. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Singapore, Singapore
If you are looking for some hands-on online activities/simulation, this is the place to stop.
I like this site and some of the activities/simulation in there, but they have to be linked with your curriculum and maybe an activity prepared by you. Students have the option to explore and invent their own circuits with different components, and that´s great for creativity and also to put knowledge in practice, as if the circuit is not built properly, it won´t work thus also good for problem solving. You can use it for a lesson or for students to practice circuits at home (in case you don´t have tho ...
Read full review
Data Safety
How safe is this product?
Unclear whether this product supports interactions between trusted users and/or students.
Unclear whether this product displays personal information publicly.
Unclear whether user-created content is filtered for personal information before being made publicly visible.
Data Rights
What rights do I have to the data?
Unclear whether users can create or upload content.
Unclear whether this product provides processes to access and review user data.
Unclear whether this product provides processes to modify inaccurate data.
Ads & Tracking
Are there advertisements or tracking?
Unclear whether data are shared for third-party advertising and/or marketing.
Unclear whether this product displays traditional or contextual advertisements.
Unclear whether this product displays behavioral or targeted advertising.

Continue reading about this tool's privacy practices, including data collection, sharing, and security.

See complete evaluation

Learn more about our privacy ratings