• Goals

        • Learn what makes a PhET sim unique

        • Develop strategies for writing sim-based activities

        • Design a lesson plan and activity sheet

        • Format

        • Lectures

        • Activities

        • Discussion prompts

        • Total Time

        • 4-7 hours

    • Though this workshop was created for math educators, science teachers interested in using PhET simulations can also benefit from this workshop.

    • In the first part of this workshop, you will discover and reflect on the learning benefits of playing with simulations through open play and reflection time. By the end of this section, you will have a strong understanding of how to leverage the design and scaffolding of a simulation to best support student inquiry and conceptual understanding.

    • If you’re not familiar with PhET, this lecture will provide a brief overview of the history and goals of the PhET project.

  • Play with Sims

    20-30 minutes

    • Now that you’ve learned a bit about PhET, it’s time to have some fun with simulations! The purpose of this time is to explore simulations as a student would, noticing features you discover within the sim and questions you have about it. Try out 4-5 different math simulations and write down your thoughts.

    • What did you notice? Below, listen to some responses from math teachers about their use with various sims.

    • Now, it’s time to step into the role of a student and work through a PhET activity. This will give you an understanding of what it is like to experience a simulation for the first time and how you might progress through it, so you can understand what your students will be going through in your activity.

    • Imagine you are a 7th grade math student - you know how to identify integers as positive or negative, you can plot integers on a number line, and you understand absolute value as the distance from zero. Today, you’ll use Build an Atom to use this knowledge in the context of atomic charge.

    • Begin by openly playing around with the simulation for about 5 minutes. Figure out how to use it, find the controls, and take note of what kind of questions you have. We call this “open play time”.

    • An iframe with the Build an Atom simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Now that you’ve gotten to know the sim, listen to how a discussion following open play time with students may be facilitated.

    • What does the teacher do here to make all student contributions feel valued?

    • Next, you’ll be working on #2-12 of the activity below.

    • Reflect on the flow of the lesson you just experienced and how it was structured. There are many ways to teach using a PhET sim, but this lesson follows a simple structure that is easy to replicate:

      • Open play: students playing with the sim and learning how to use the sim without guidance

      • Share-out: students share how to use the sim and discoveries they made with teacher facilitating

      • Activity sheet: students work through open-ended challenge prompts that encourage multiple correct answers

      • Discussion and check-in: students pause periodically to discuss with peers or the whole class while the teacher circulates and checks in with individuals and groups

      • Summary discussion: teacher facilitates a discussion where students share their thinking and teacher guides students toward the learning goals

    • How might this flow work in your classroom? What classroom norms might need to be established?

    • Dr. David Webb presents on progressive formalization and Equality Explorer, and how important progressive formalization is in the development of deep conceptual understanding.

      • What are some strategies that you can use with two-step equations when you’re working with students?

      • How can we help students see structure and meaning in these symbols?

      • How can we help students develop meaningful strategies to manipulate these symbols?

    • Play with the Equality Explorer simulation if you aren’t already familiar with it!

    • An iframe with the Equality Explorer simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • As you’re putting things on the balance, what are some questions that come to mind?

      • What are the new icons/controls offered on the Numbers screen?

      • What are questions that could be explored?

    • In the second part of this workshop you will choose a specific math simulation to plan a lesson around, identify the learning goals for your lesson, start developing plans for your lesson, and participate in a challenge prompt writing exercise.

    • Before you get started writing your own lesson, it may help to look at how other educators have used your simulation. This section will introduce you to the resources available for teachers on the PhET website, including: sample learning goals, CCSS-alignment, and activities shared both by PhET and by other teachers.

    • As you get started planning your lesson, consider the technology you have available, and how much time you plan to take on the topic. Since PhET sims can be used to teach many topics covering many days of instruction, it is best to choose 2-3 learning goals for a single lesson plan. We recommend some specific strategies for writing learning goals.

    • Start by looking at the following activity sheets, and take notes on what you notice about the questions. Do you have any critiques? What do you like, or not like?

    • Watch an overview of our recommended strategies for writing a sim-based lesson. This presentation includes research-based activity-writing strategies, teacher insights, and real classroom footage.

      • You have a busy year with a lot to cover. How is this lesson going to fit in? Will you replace a lesson? Will it be supplemental?

      • Think about where in the topic sequence it will fit. Will it introduce a topic? Reinforce a topic? Address common student misunderstandings?

    • Writing an open-ended challenge prompt can be really challenging! The goal is to keep the prompts open enough that you aren’t instructing students on how to use the sim, but specific enough that students are achieving your learning goals.

      • Review the learning goal and the original prompt. Consider how students will end up using the sim.

      • Try modifying the prompt to be more open-ended but still achieve the same learning goal.

      • Listen to what some teachers came up with.

    • Example: Proportion Playground

    • An iframe with the Proportion Playground simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Learning Goal: Identify the greatest common factor of two numbers by observing the number of times a pattern repeats.

      Original Prompt: Create a bead pattern with 6 red and 8 blue. How many times does the pattern repeat? How is the number of repeats related to the total number of red beads and blue beads?

    • "In this example, all students will be “answer-makers” because they are following the directions and finding an answer. If every student is doing the same thing with the sim, it is not taking full advantage of the exploratory nature of simulations. If every student is trying to find the same answers, it becomes harder to have a rich discussion."

    • New Prompt: Create a bead pattern that repeats 3 times. Compare with a partner. How is the number of repeats related to the total number of red beads and blue beads? Challenge yourself to come up with a third pattern that also repeats 3 times.

    • "In this version of the prompt, students are guided to find structure in their necklaces, and notice patterns in the numbers that produce the same bead pattern. All students get to the same learning goal as above, but by comparing results, students can easily see many iterations and use their own language to generalize their observations."

    • 1. Build an Atom

    • An iframe with the Build an Atom simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Learning Goal: Describe the sum of additive inverses.

      Original Prompt: Build an atom with 3 protons and 3 electrons. What is the net charge?

      • In order to respond to the prompt, how will students use the sim?

      • How could you modify the prompt so that it is open-ended, but still reaches the learning goal?

    • Here is what teachers said:

    • 2. Area Model Multiplication

    • An iframe with the Area Model Multiplication simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Learning Goal: Explain the relationship between the partial areas and the total area of a partitioned area model.

      Original Prompt: Make a model that is 13x17 and drag the lines to make 10+3 and 10+7. What are the four smaller areas, and how do they relate to the total area?

      • In order to respond to the prompt, how will students use the sim?

      • How could you modify the prompt so that it is open-ended, but still reaches the learning goal?

    • Here is what teachers said:

    • 3. Graphing Lines

    • An iframe with the Graphing Lines simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Learning Goal: Identify parts of linear equations in Slope-Intercept.

      Original Prompt: Graph a line with slope=-⅔ and y-int=2. Compare your answer with the sim and write the equation.

      • In order to respond to the prompt, how will students use the sim?

      • How could you modify the prompt so that it is open-ended, but still reaches the learning goal?

    • Here is what teachers said:

    • 4. Function Builder

    • An iframe with the Function Builder simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Learning Goal: Describe how symmetry impacts a rotation function.

      Original Prompt: Using the Wheel icon, introduce the Butterfly and the Snowflake. How do they transform after they go through the function?

      • In order to respond to the prompt, how will students use the sim?

      • How could you modify the prompt so that it is open-ended, but still reaches the learning goal?

    • Here is what teachers said:

    • 5. Unit Rates

    • An iframe with the Unit Rates simulation is embedded below. The simulation is not yet accessible.

    • Learning Goal: Look for patterns in the double number line.

      Original Prompt: Put a bag of apples in the scale. Remove an apple one at a time. What do you notice about the numbers in the double number line?

      • In order to respond to the prompt, how will students use the sim?

      • How could you modify the prompt so that it is open-ended, but still reaches the learning goal?

    • Here is what teachers said:

    • Finally, it is time to write your lesson! After you have spent some time working on your activity sheet and lesson plan with teacher facilitation notes, invite a colleague to look it over and give feedback.

    • Some final reminders as you write your own lesson:

      • Keep it short

      • Use sim-focused challenge prompts and tables to scaffold student progress but support student autonomy

      • Include explicit stopping points for students to discuss findings

      • Include teacher notes with sample discussion questions

      • Allow extra time for unexpected student discoveries

    • After you have had a chance to teach with your lesson, take a moment to reflect on the parts that went well and what you would change.

    • After you have made your final lesson tweaks, don’t forget to share your lesson on the PhET website for the teacher community. If you’ve followed the guidelines in this workshop, your activity should earn a gold star.

    • Please rate this workshop. We appreciate your feedback!