• In this virtual workshop, you will learn how to effectively design a learning sequence that makes use of PhET’s simulations for mathematics and science.

    • Is this your first time learning about PhET? If so, we encourage you to first finish the Intro to PhET Simulations workshop, the Whole-Class Strategies workshop, and either the Math Activity Design or the Science Activity Design workshop.

    • If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected]

        • Goals

        • Become familiar with strategies to facilitate student use of simulations (sims) during a sim-based activity.

        • Implement a sim-based mathematics or science lesson plan and activity sheet.

        • Reflect on and revise a sim-based lesson plan and activity sheet before and after your implementation.

        • Format

        • Activities

        • Activities

        • Activities

        • Activities

        • Total Time

        • 6 hours

    • This workshop asks you to build off of the knowledge and skills you have gained from the prior workshops to revise and ultimately implement a sim-based lesson in your own classroom. If you are not currently teaching, consider administering your lesson to a colleague or family member. We encourage you to use the reflection tools to authentically assess what works and what doesn’t work when using sims in your context.

  • Write Your Plan

    30 minutes

    • Now it is time to write your lesson plan!

    • A lesson plan is a document that illustrates how to implement an activity with students. This document typically includes learning goals, prior knowledge, discussion prompts, student activities, teachers’ actions, and expected student interactions, reactions, and answers.

    • If you already took the Whole-Class Strategies, Science Activity Design or Math Activity Design workshops, then you should already have draft components to create a full lesson plan.

    • PhET recommends that lesson plans include the following components:

      • Overview: This section includes students’ prerequisite skills, learning goals, standards alignment (if applicable), key questions, materials, and estimated total time.

      • Pre-Lab: A pre-lab or warm-up is an opening activity, done just before the lesson or at the start of class, to identify students’ prior knowledge, connect this knowledge with previous experiences, and motivate students to engage with the lesson.

      • Open-Play Time (if students have direct access to the sims): During this time, students build familiarity with the PhET sim. Describe what strategies you will use to ensure that students discover the critical sim controls without direct instruction, connect the sim with the learning goals, and get them ready for the sim-centered activity.

      • Sim-Centered Activity: The sim-centered activity can include teacher-led demonstrations, whole-class discussions, and/or students’ direct interaction with a sim with the support of an activity sheet. If you use any kind of activity sheet, it should be included here.

      • Discussion and Summary: A concluding discussion helps students to formalize, summarize, and evaluate their learning. In this section, describe how to close the lesson, making sure that all students synthesize their ideas, and reflect on how they achieved the learning goals.

      • Going Forward (optional): The lesson plan can describe how teachers can go beyond the activity. This section can include differentiated activities for students that finish more quickly, additional activities if the class finishes early, or follow-up assignments extending the learning experience.

    • One major challenge that most teachers face when writing a lesson is to describe the learning environment and the specific strategies that the teacher will use. It is especially difficult to write a lesson plan that illustrates what you intend to do if the activity is primarily driven through discussion (such as Whole-Class Inquiry), and not a written set of prompts (such as Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, Concept Questions, or Activity Sheets).

    • Regardless of what strategies you intend to use in your lesson, your plan should provide enough contextual description so that an outside reviewer can understand who your students are, what you will do as the teacher, and what you expect your students to do. To illustrate these elements, we encourage you to consider incorporating one or more of the following components into your lesson plan:

      • Teacher guide describing the various parts of the lesson, teacher and student actions, and anticipated correct and incorrect student answers with suggested teacher interventions

      • Guideposts within a student worksheet, such as moments when students should stop for discussion with each other and/or with you

    • Get some inspiration from the comprehensive lesson plan sets below, which include separate student activities and teacher guidelines. (Keep in mind that great lesson plans can look very different. They can include teacher-led demonstrations, whole-class discussions, structured question sets, and/or activity sheets that students do while working directly with a sim. All of the examples below are centered around an activity sheet).

    • Physics: Light and Filters

    • Biology: Natural Selection

    • Chemistry: Measuring Ph

    • Mathematics: Defining Functions

    • You can also Browse Activities contributed by the teacher community. Activities with a gold star or inquiry-based check use active learning strategies and include the essential elements of lesson plans. Please keep in mind that teacher contributions often include only a student worksheet, not a full lesson plan that describes the activity context, pacing, or teacher strategies. However, we hope that these contributions can be an inspiration to you. (Note: To see these activities, you must be logged into your free PhET account).

    • Once you have seen enough examples, use the Lesson Plan Template (or use your own format) to create your own sim-based lesson plan with details about how you will facilitate the activity, and what is expected from students. (Some schools or educational systems already have specific formats for lesson plans, but the particular format is not what matters–only that you have all the essential components.)

    • To support you as you write an effective lesson plan, PhET has a set of reflection tools to help you before, during, and after your implementation of the lesson.

    • Choose a pre-implementation reflection–either a short version for a quick review, or a long version for a more in-depth analysis–and reflect on your lesson plan. You will assess whether your lesson plan includes basic structural elements, prompts for active learning, essential elements for whole-class implementation strategies or individual and small group activities, and an overall reflection. (Lessons that use only whole-class implementation strategies or individual/small group activities should only use the applicable corresponding sections).

    • A helpful strategy is to conduct your own reflection using the tool, and then asking a colleague to review your lesson plan and do their own independent reflection on your work. Then, come together again to compare your results and see where you agree.

    • While not all great lessons will include every possible component on the reflection tool, take note of the elements of effective planning that you included, and what you might need to work on. Then, improve your lesson plan.

    • Note: The PhET Team uses the pre-implementation reflection tool to assess lessons that are submitted to the PhET website. Lessons that meet these requirements are published with a gold star or inquiry-based check, informing the teacher community of the highest-quality lessons.

    • Overview: Before you implement your lesson plan with your students, keep in mind these key facilitation recommendations that will help your lesson be successful. The video below provides an overview of eight facilitation strategies to use during class. (While these strategies are most relevant for using PhET sims individually or in small groups with activity sheets, many of these strategies are also helpful when working with the whole-class as well).

    • Preparing for a PhET Activity: Before class begins, be sure to go through the activity as if you were a student, considering the range of possible responses to teacher questions and activity prompts. This process will help you become familiar with the flow of the activity. It will also help you identify the points in the lesson in which you will want to draw your students’ attention, and prepare you for the places where students are likely to get stuck. In building your familiarity with the sim, you might also find that you can address learning goals you had not previously considered.

    • Also, consider that the amount of time that it takes you to go through the activity will be shorter than the time for your students. Finally, if you are planning on dividing the whole class into small working groups, organize these groups to have 1-2 students per device or table—groups small enough so that they can explore the simulation on their own while sharing ideas with their partner(s).

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • What do you expect will be the most challenging part of your lesson for students?

      • Other than your intended learning goals, what else might students discover during your lesson?

    • Getting Started in Class: An important part of starting any lesson is to convey purpose and relevance. Most teachers do this by presenting learning goals (and/or objectives), and ensuring that students understand the goals by relating them to their prior knowledge or personal experiences.

    • Keep in mind that effective learning goals are not statements that the day’s activities will verify. Rather, they are statements that direct students to explore and ultimately make conclusions about scientific or mathematical concepts. For example, “Understand that the strength of gravity is influenced by the mass of objects and the distance between them” leaves no room for students to discover this principle on their own. An alternative learning goal might be “Identify variables that affect the strength of gravity.” See more PhET’s guidelines for Writing Learning Goals.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • How will you ensure students understand the learning goals or objectives?

      • What are some relevant, real-life examples that relate to the topic that students might bring up?

    • Starting Out with Open Play: PhET recommends that teachers give students time for unstructured exploration at the start of an activity. It gives students the chance to familiarize themselves with the simulation’s functionality, so they can focus on the mathematics or science concepts during the structured activity. Additionally, this time allows the teacher to walk around and observe what students are noticing and discovering on their own.

    • Open play can be more of a challenge when engaging in whole-class implementation with a single projected sim. However, it is possible! One option includes asking a student to come to the front of the class and engage in open play while taking suggestions about what to do from students. Another way to facilitate whole-class open play is to follow directions from students about how to interact, so the students are always the ones “driving” the simulation.

    • Following open play, allow students to share with the class how to use the sim while it is projected for everyone to see. This brief transition to the activity allows for more student voice in the classroom, maintains student agency, and ensures that all students find the sim controls needed for the activity.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • What important features of the sim do you want students to discover during open play?

      • What are two or three questions you might use during and after open play to prompt discovery?

    • Circulating and Helping Students in Small Groups: During open play or while students are working on an activity with the sim, don’t forget to move around! Circulating the classroom helps teachers to see and hear things they otherwise wouldn’t observe if they remained at the front of the classroom.

    • Keep in mind that students don’t always need to be working on a worksheet or directly interacting with the sim on their own device for you to circulate. You can also circulate during whole-class implementation, such as when you ask students to discuss answers during Whole-Class Inquiry, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, or Concept Questions and Peer Instruction.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • As you “shop for examples” while circulating, what ideas, or discoveries do you hope students will bring up?

      • What strategies will you use to help students work productively?

    • Pacing and Checking for Understanding: Think about intentional moments where you might intend to pause throughout the activity. You can explicitly write these moments into student activity sheets, or just call students’ attention together after allowing them time to work individually or in small groups. These moments are helpful for checking for understanding, trouble-shooting common problems, and synthesizing what has been learned.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • Where are the natural break points for you to stop and check student understanding?

      • What questions or prompts will you use to check for understanding? (Consider integrating a Concept Question with Peer Instruction for targeted assessment).

    • Supporting Student Ownership: Students who feel they are in control of their learning are often more highly motivated to engage with a sim and the mathematics or science concepts. Teachers can support student ownership by soliciting student ideas and helping students make their own discoveries.

      • How will you support student ownership?

      • Does your lesson have sufficient room to allow for unexpected learning opportunities that might arise from student discoveries?

    • Facilitating Whole-Class Discussions: Even if students are primarily working with a sim individually or in small groups, there is value in pausing for whole-class discussion. Whole-class discussion is tightly connected to other effective facilitation strategies, including checks for understanding and supporting student ownership.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • How will you cue students that it is time for a whole-class discussion?

      • How will you support equitable opportunities for all students to participate in the discussion?

    • Pulling It All Together: At the end of the lesson, it is now time to reconnect with the learning goal to see if students were able to achieve it. Many teachers use a final assessment question that helps the teacher determine if students achieved the lesson’s learning goals. Concept Questions can be good inspiration for the kinds of question(s) to ask.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • How will you and the students know if they have achieved the learning goals?

      • How will you support students to synthesize their learning?

    • Technical Tips: PhET sims are easy to use across multiple devices and platforms, but it is still important to prepare to use technology. Visit the PhET Help Center to learn about common technical questions and answers about sims.

    • Reflect on your lesson plan:

      • What technology checks do you need to do before implementing your lesson?

      • How will you set up the classroom to maximize student engagement?

    • Review all of the strategies shared in the video series in the document below.

    • Teaching Online or Asynchronously: Teaching online or asynchronously presents its own set of challenges! While it is possible to use many of these facilitation strategies in an online setting, here are a few things to consider:

      • Allow students to share their screens: During synchronous online sessions, give students the chance to share their screens with the whole class and with each other.

      • Use breakout rooms effectively: Breakout rooms in synchronous online sessions allow students to work in pairs or small groups on a sim or discussions about a sim. Teachers can check in on students occasionally, put a digital timer to let them know when to come back together as a whole group, and respond to questions by chat when it is not possible to be with students one-on-one.

      • Be judicious in choosing asynchronous sim engagement: In blended synchronous and asynchronous learning, consider what is gained or lost when students engage in sims on their own without live interaction with the teacher or their peers. If possible, support asynchronous collaboration–have students engage in discussion threads about the sim or work on a collaborative activity sheet.

      • Provide opportunities for divergent assessment: Take advantage of what technology has to offer. Encourage students to demonstrate their learning creatively, and in ways that discourage studies from copying responses. For example, get inspiration for open-ended tasks from these Science Challenge Prompt or Math Challenge Prompt exercises, encourage students to submit their work as screen captures or even narrated screencast video recordings.

    • Now that you are familiar with PhET’s suggested facilitation strategies, revise your lesson plan. Keep in mind that a student activity sheet often does not provide the necessary guidance to yourself or other teachers about what the teacher should be doing, so this is an opportunity for you to illustrate what you expect will happen in the classroom.

    • Would you like to go deeper with PhET facilitation strategies and what research says about their effectiveness? You might check the following resources from PhysPort, a website that compiles discipline-based research on physics (but is applicable to many mathematics and science classes):

  • Teach & Reflect

    60 minutes

    • Now that you have a whole lesson prepared, it is almost time to take the lesson to your classroom and teach with it!

    • Prepare to teach the Lesson: Using the facilitation guidelines, make sure your lesson plan and your technology is ready to go. As necessary, prepare your students with any prior activities that are necessary to be ready for the activity, such as a pre-lab you might want to assign the evening before.

    • Additionally, consider if you would like to have a trusted colleague observe what happens. Sometimes, an outside perspective can give insights that teachers miss on their own. Keep in mind that an observation of this type should help you to reflect on the effectiveness of the lesson, not to provide judgment about your teaching abilities. Alternatively, if allowed, you might consider setting up your smartphone or your computer camera to record your teaching so you can review what happened afterward.

    • PhET provides a prototype observation tool below to help observers determine the level of effectiveness of PhET simulation integration into your students’ learning. The tool is aligned to many elements of PhET’s guidelines about active learning and facilitation, and can help you to identify if and when desired student and teacher behaviors are occurring.

    • Teach the Lesson: Now it is time to try the lesson with your students!

    • Reflect on the Lesson: After carrying out the activity with your students, take a moment to reflect on the parts that went well and what you would change. In the midst of busy days, it might be helpful to jot down a few notes to review later on.

    • When you get a bit of additional time, PhET recommends that you do a thorough self-reflection. To complete your own self-assessment, PhET recommends using your choice of two versions of our Post-Implementation Tool below–a short version for a quick review, or a long version for a more in-depth analysis. This tool helps you to determine whether or not the lesson played out as you had originally planned, and if students achieved the intended learning goals. Think especially about how your self-assessment might influence how you revise the lesson or how you will approach the next class session.

    • If you had an observer use the Observation Tool, look at the results together. (If not, skip to the next paragraph below!)

      • What patterns (both in terms of frequency and timing) did the observer notice?

      • What teacher and student behaviors on the tool were most prevalent?

      • What teacher and student behaviors on the tool were absent?

      • Did the observer’s notes reflect what you observed as a teacher?

      • As a result of the observation, how might you reinforce or remediate your facilitation strategies?

    • Use the Post-Implementation Reflection Tool and notes from the Observation Tool to make changes before you teach the lesson again, or as you write new lesson plans.

    • Congratulations! You have completed the Facilitating PhET Sims workshop.

    • Take a moment to summarize:

      • What are the main ideas or skills you learned from this workshop?

      • How will you take what you have learned and implement it in the near future?

    • After you have made your final lesson tweaks, don't forget to submit your lesson plan to the PhET website for the teacher community. If you adequately meet the guidelines in the Reflection Tool: Pre-Implementation, your activity should earn a gold star, i.e., it is an activity that support inquiry, and it is recommended by PhET.

    • Tell Us What You Think

    • Let us know how things went! Please reach out to us at [email protected] with any feedback you might have about this course.

    • You have completed the final course in the series of PhET virtual workshops! Please be sure to make a PhET account so that we can stay in touch, and so you don’t miss out on future PhET opportunities.