Common Sense Review
Updated July 2016

PhET Interactive Simulations: Biology

Useful biology simulations best used in upper-level classes
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This module is part of the Website PhET Interactive Simulations.
Common Sense Rating 3
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  • The natural selection simulator includes simple controls and excellent mathematical visualizations.
  • Gene expression and mRNA can be tricky to understand, but when students control the process, they become quite clear.
  • For anatomy, physiology, and AP biology classes, this neuron simulator is extremely useful.
  • Acidity is a critical concept in life sciences, and gaining a fundamental understanding is easy with this demonstrator.
  • Easy-to-use menus make finding the right tool a breeze.
Galen McQuillen
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 3
How Can Teachers Use It?

PhET's excellent simulations let students visualize and take an active role in controlling complex scientific phenomena, but even with a few useful gems, they aren't as well suited for the K-12 classroom as their counterparts in other disciplines. While simulations for gene expression, the lac operon, membrane channels, and neurons are well made and beautifully illuminate these processes, they're beyond the reach of all but perhaps AP-level biology classes. There are a few tools nicely suited to other life sciences classes, like the natural selection simulator, the eating and exercise visualization, and the stretching DNA applet. In addition, the pH scale demonstration and Plinko probability tool help with chemical and mathematical concepts necessary to gaining deep understanding of biological phenomena. 

While there aren't tons of options for biology and life science teachers here, it's a good chance at least one or two of these tools will find a place in your classroom. Let students get their hands on these and they'll quickly internalize tricky concepts. If you need some ideas, check out the teacher-prepared lesson plans, labs, and guides that accompany each simulation. 

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Lesson Plans