Resource Image Sims for Science

by: Katherine K. Perkins, Patricia J. Loeblein, and Kathryn L. Dessau
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Type of Resource: Journal Article
Average Rating: Rating
 based on 3 reviews
Publication Title: The Science Teacher
Publication Date: 10/1/2010
Grade Level: High School


Since 2002, the PhET Interactive Simulations project at the University of Colorado has been working to provide learning tools for students and teachers. The project has developed over 85 interactive simulations—or sims—for teaching and learning science. Although these sims can be used in a variety of ways, they are specifically designed to make scientist-like, inquiry-based activities that are productive and fun learning experiences for students. In this article, the authors focus on the design features of PhET sims that support inquiry learning, highlight their alignment with standards for several science disciplines, and provide examples of inquiry-based activities.

Ideas For Use


Additional Info

Science Discipline: (mouse over for full classification)
Reaction rates
Physical properties
Scientific habits of mind
Using technology
Intended User Role:Curriculum Supervisor, High-School Educator, Teacher
Educational Issues:Assessment of students, Classroom management, Curriculum, Inquiry learning, Integrating technology, Interdisciplinary, Professional development, Teacher preparation, Teaching strategies


Resource Format:
Size: KB
Installation Remarks:

National Standards Correlation

This resource has 20 correlations with the National Standards.  

This resource has 20 correlations with the National Standards.  

  • Physical Science
    • Properties and changes of properties in matter
      • Substances react chemically in characteristic ways with other substances to form new substances (compounds) with different characteristic properties. (5-8)
    • Chemical Reactions
      • Reaction rates depend on how often the reacting atoms and molecules encounter one another, on the temperature, and on the properties--including shape--of the reacting species. (9-12)
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravitation is a universal force that each mass exerts on any other mass. (9-12)
      • The electric force is a universal force that exists between any two charged objects. (9-12)
      • Electricity and magnetism are two aspects of a single electromagnetic force. (9-12)
      • The effects of moving electric charges help students to understand electric motors and generators. (9-12) (Electricity)
    • Interactions of energy and matter
      • Electromagnetic waves result when a charged object is accelerated or decelerated. (9-12)
      • Electromagnetic waves include radio waves (the longest wavelength), microwaves, infrared radiation (radiant heat), visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays. (9-12)
      • Semiconducting materials have intermediate behavior. (9-12)
  • Life Science
    • Biological evolution
      • Evolution is the consequence of the interactions of the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring. (9-12)
      • Natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the fossil record of ancient life forms, as well as for the striking molecular similarities observed among the diverse species of living organisms. (9-12)
  • Earth Science
    • Energy in the earth system
      • The greenhouse effect is the warming effect on the air caused by heat rising from the surface of the Earth and being trapped by gases in the troposphere. (9-12)
    • Origin and evolution of the earth system
      • Geologic time can be estimated by observing rock sequences and using fossils to correlate the sequences at various locations. (9-12)
      • Current methods of measuring geologic time include using the known decay rates of radioactive isotopes present in rocks to measure the time since the rock was formed. (9-12)
  • Science as Inquiry
    • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
      • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
      • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Process Standards for Professional Development
    • Design
      • Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge. (NSES)
  • Teaching Standards
    • Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students.
      • Select teaching and assessment strategies that support the development of student understanding and nurture a community of science learners.
    • Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning. In doing this, teachers
      • Encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry, as well as the curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism that characterize science.
    • Teachers provide students with the time, space, and resources needed to learn science.
      • Make the available science tools, materials, media, and technological resources accessible to students.

User Reviews

Sims in the middle school
  Sandy Gady (Renton, WA) on November 17, 2011
  PhET Interactive Simulations Project at the University of Colorado has developed over 85 interactive simulations, all of which are free, for students and teachers to use within classrooms to help students understand a variety of concepts. I have used the sims with my middle school students as both a demonstration as well as a supplement provided for students to use at home. Sims are available for Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science and Math. A big advantage to the sims is students are able to experience labs that we couldn’t otherwise do, either because of lack of equipment or constraints on time.

Simulations in the Middle School Classroom
  Sandra Gady (Renton, WA) on May 11, 2011
  We used this article in our Professional Learning Community, PLC, to help build understanding of the use of simulations, or Sims, in our middle school classroom. PhET Interactive Simulations from the University of Colorado has developed over 85 interactive simulations to enhance student learning. I’ve used many of the simulations in m Design and Engineering classroom, a favorite of the students is “Circuit Construction Kit”. This one in particular has been useful because we no longer have the budget to replace old and missing electronic kit parts. Student learning continues even though the real hands on materials are gone. The “Sims and Benchmarks” table does a nice job highlighting sims available for use within each content area. Lots of examples are available explaining how the authors have used the sims in their own classroom along with samplings of questions to guide student learning. The best part is, sims can also be downloaded from the PhET site for offline use.

Science Simulations
  Kathy Sparrow (Delray Beach, FL) on April 1, 2011
  Simulations are a great teaching tool, especially when experiments require unavailable equipment or are too dangerous to perform in the classroom. This article tells about the PhET Interactive Simulations Project at the University of Colorado which is a great resource for teachers to use to supplement their curriculum. The article describes the types of simulations available—in physics, chemistry, biology, Earth science, and math—and matches them with the AAAS 2009 Benchmarks. The article gives examples of the types of simulations and the inquiry processes that students will use as they perform a simulation. Especially if you’re not familiar with these PhET simulations, this article give a comprehensive overview of these (free) online learning resources.