PhET: Research and Development:
How PhET simulations are designed, and the research process of refining the simulations to best promote learning.

PhET conducts research on both the design and use of interactive simulations to better understand:
  1. Which characteristics make these tools effective for learning and why
  2. How students engage and interact with these tools to learn, and what influences this process
  3. When, how, and why these tools are effective in a variety of learning environments
The PhET simulation design principles are based on research on how students learn (Bransford et al., 2000) and from our simulation interviews (see PhET Design Process). Between four and six think-aloud style interviews with individual students are done with each simulation. These interviews provide a rich data source for studying interface design and student learning. The PhET Look and Feel briefly describes our interface design principles and a complete discussion is found in the pair of papers by Adams et al., 2008.

Research answers to commonly asked questions:

"Can PhET sims replace real lab equipment?"
Our studies have shown that PhET sims are more effective for conceptual understanding; however, there are many goals of hands-on labs that simulations do not address. For example, specific skills relating to the functioning of equipment. Depending on the goals of your laboratory, it may be more effective to use just sims or a combination of sims and real equipment

"Do students learn if I just tell them to go home and play with a sim?"
Most students do not have the necessary drive to spend time playing with a science simulation (they're fun, but not that fun) on their own time unless there is a direct motivation such as their grade. This is one of the reasons we are pursuing the project of how to best integrate sims into homework.

"Where is the best place to use PhET sims in my course?"
We have found PhET sims to be very effective in lecture, in class activities, lab and homework. They are designed with minimal text so that they can easily be integrated into every aspect of a course.

Our immediate interests are:

Use of analogy to construct understanding: Students use analogies in sims to make sense of unfamiliar phenomena. Representations play a key role in student use of analogy.

Simulations as tools for changing classroom norms: Sims are shaped by socio-cultural norms of science, but can also be used to change the traditional norms of how students engage in the classroom.

Specific features of sims that promote learning and engaged exploration: Our design principles identify key characteristics of sims that make them productive tools for student engagement. Now we wish to study in detail how each feature impacts student understanding.

Integrating simulations into homework: Simulations have unique features that are not available in most learning tools (interactivity, animation, dynamic feedback, allow for productive exploration)

Effectiveness of Chemistry simulations: We have just begun investigating the envelope of where and how chemistry simulations can be effective learning tools.

Publications and Presentations

Important features for effective simulation design (predominantly interview data)

Research on in-class use

About PhET sims

Students Perceptions About Learning

Other Work by PhET Researchers

Publications on PhET Simulations by Other Researchers

  • Constructionism and microworlds as part of a 21st century learning activity to impact student engagement and confidence in physics, Wickham, C. M., Girvan, C., & Tangney, B., (2016, Feb). Sipitakiat, A., & Tutiyaphuengprasert, N. (Eds.) Proceedings of Constructionism 2016. Paper presented at Constructionism 2016, Bangkok Thailand (34-41).
  • Use of physics simulations in whole class and small group settings: Comparative case studies, A.L. Stephens & J.J. Clement , Computers & Education 86, 137-156, 2015.
  • Balancing Act: Do Preservice Teachers in an Integrated Mathematics/Science Course Categorize a Levers Problem as Mathematics or Science?, P. Cormas, Annual meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE), San Antonio, January, 2014.
  • Investigating the Relationship Between the Substance Metaphor for Energy and Its Proposed Affordances and Limitations, L. M. Goodhew and A. D. Robertson, in preparation for 2014 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by P. V. Englehardt, A. D. Churukian, and D. L. Jones (AIP, Minneapolis, MN), 2014.
  • Not a magic bullet: the effect of scaffolding on knowledge and attitudes in online simulations, Roll, I., Briseno, A., Yee, N., & Welsh, A., In J. Polman, E. Kyza, I. Tabak, & K. O’Neill, proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences. (30%), 2014.
  • Students’ adaptation and transfer of strategies across levels of scaffolding in an exploratory environment, Roll, I., Yee, N., Briseno, A, In proceedings of the International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems. Honolulu, HI, 2014.
  • The impact of computer simulations as interactive demonstration tools on the performance of Grade 11 learners in electromagnetis, Kotoka J and Kriek J., African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education 18(1), 2014.
  • Animation or Simulation: Investigating the Importance of Interactivity for Learning Solubility Equilibria, Akaygun, S. & Jones, L. L., In J. P. Suits & M. J. Sanger, (Eds.) Pedagogic Roles of Animations and Simulations in Chemistry Courses, (pp. 127-159), Washington, DC: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • How Does Level of Guidance Affect Understanding When Students Use a Dynamic Simulation of Liquid-Vapor Equilibrium?, Akaygun, S. & Jones, L. L., In I. Devetak, & S. A. Glazar, (Eds), Learning with understanding in the chemistry classroom, (pp. 243-263), Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2014.
  • Multimodal study of visual problem solving in chemistry with multiple representations, S. Hansen, Dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, 2014.
  • Designing online scaffolds for interactive computer simulation, Chen, C.-H., Wu, I.-C., & Jen, F.-L, Interactive Learning Environments, 21(3), 229–243, 2013.
  • Computer simulations and clear observations do not guarantee conceptual understanding, Renken, M. D., & Nunez, N., Learning and Instruction, 23, 10–23, 2013.
  • Applying cognitive developmental psychology to middle school physics learning: The rule assessment method, Hallinen, N. R., Chi, M., Chin, D. B., Prempeh, J., Blair, K. P., & Schwartz, D. L., 1513, 158–161, 2013.
  • “Re-Simulating”: Physics Simulations for Blind Students, Bulbul, M. S., Demirtas, D., Garip, B., & Oktay, O., Presented at the New Perspectives in Science Education., 2013.
  • Electromagnetic Induction, Yochum, H., et.al., Science & Children. 51(2):63-67, 2013.
  • Teacher candidates' knowledge construction with technology, Zhou, G., & Xu, Z., Knowledge construction and multimodal curriculum development (pp.112-127). IGI Global, 2013.
  • Enhancing Students’ Scientific Literacy In Science Education Using Interactive Simulations: A Critical Literature Review, Fan, X. & Geelan, D.R., Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 32(2), 125-171, 2013.
  • Radiation and Atomic Literacy for Nonscientists, Johnson, A, Science 342(6157): 436-437, 2013.
  • Students’ Conceptual Change in Electricity and Magnetism using Simulations: a Comparison of Cognitive Perturbation and Cognitive Conflict, Dega, BG, Kriek J & Mogese, TF, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 50(6)pp.677-698, 2013.
  • Teacher education using computer simulations—pre and in-service primary school teacher training to teach science, Pinto, A., Barbot, A., Viegas, C., Silva, A. A., Santos, C. A., & Lopes, J. B., Learning Science in the Society of Computers, 28–36., 2012.
  • Designing a Web-Based Science Learning Environment for Model-Based Collaborative Inquiry, Sun, D., & Looi, C.-K., Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2012.
  • The learning effects of computer simulations in science education, Rutten, N., van Joolingen, W. R., & van der Veen, J. T., Computers & Education, 58(1), 136–153, 2012.
  • Adding value to physics education technology simulations. , Kruhlak, R. J., Vanholsbeeck, F., & Coghill, C., 2012.
  • Inquiry-based Lessons and PhET Simulations - A Great Match for Middle School Classrooms, Zimmer, E., Presented at the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012: AACE, Chesapeake, VA., 2012.
  • Effectiveness of Computer Simulations in Physics Teaching/Learning, Aklilu, T., LAMBERT Academic Publishing GmbH &Co. KG and licensors, 2012.
  • Effects of Computer Simulations on Undergraduate Science Students Physics Achievement, Aklilu, T., Bereket, G., Melak, M., & Tefaye, G., A stand-alone paper virtually presented at the 2012 Annual international Conference of NARST held on March 25-28/2012 at Indianapolis, Indian, USA, 2012.
  • Integrating Information Technology and Science Education for the Future: A Theoretical Review on the Educational Use of Interactive Simulations, Xinxin Fan & David Geelan, in Proceedings of the 2012 Australian Computers in Education Conference: It's time, Australian Council for Computers in Education, Australia, 2012.
  • Effectiveness of Scientific Visualizations in Year 11 Chemistry and Physics Education, David Geelan, in Proceedings of the 2012 Australian Computers in Education Conference: It's time, Australian Council for Computers in Education, Australia, 2012.
  • The usefulness of log based clustering in a complex simulation environment, Kardan, S., Roll, I., & Conati, C. (to appear), In S. Trausen-Matu & K. Boyer, proceedings of the International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems, 2012.
  • Identifying & Resolving Problematic Student Thinking About Ionizing Radiation, Maidl, R., et al., National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Weber State College, Ogden, UT, UNC Asheville, 2012.
  • Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations., Committee on Science Learning Computer Games, S. A. E., Education, B. O. S., Education, D. O. B. A. S. S. A., National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2011.
  • Science modelling in pre-calculus: how to make mathematics problems contextually meaningful. , Sokolowski, A., Yalvac, B., & Loving, C., International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 42(3), 283–297, 2011.
  • Discussion-based strategies for use of simulations and animations in middle and high school science classrooms, Leibovitch, A., Stephens, L., Price, N., & Clement, J., Proceedings 
Meeting, 2011.
  • Effectiveness of Computer Simulations in the Teaching/ Learning of Physics, Aklilu, T., Tilahun T., and Mesfin T., A stand-alone paper presented at the 2011 Annual international Conference of NARST held on April 3-6/2011 Orlando, Florida, USA, 2011.
  • The use of Interactive Computer Simulations with regard to access to Education – a social justice issue, Kaheru, SJM, Mpeta M and Kriek J, Journal of Educational Studies 10(2) pp 89 - 106, 2011.
  • The contribution of simulations to the practical work of foundation physics students at the University of Limpopo, Mhlongo, R, Kriek, J and Basson I, Multicultural education and technology journal. 5(4) p 288-302, 2011.
  • In-service science teachers’ views about learning physics after a one week workshop, Ramlo, S. & Nicholas, J., Human Subjectivity, 1, pp 109-120, 2010.
  • Teachers’ beliefs and their intention to use interactive simulations in their classrooms, Kriek, J. and Stols, G., South African Journal of Education 30 pp. 439 - 456, 2010.
  • Spatial Learning and Computer Simulations in Science, Lindgren, R., & Schwartz, D. L., International Journal of Science Education, 31(3), 419–438, 2009.
  • Student perspectives on learning physics and their relationship with learning force and motion concepts: A study using Q methodology, Ramlo, S., Human Subjectivity, 2, pp 73-90, 2008.
  • Pengembangan Lembar Kerja Siswa Berbasis Inkuiri Melalui Media Virtual PhET Untuk Melatihkan Keterampilan Berpikir Kritis Siswa Pada Materi Pemanasan Global, K. Rohmah, Rachmadiarti F. & Setiawan B., Universitas Negeri Surabaya (Indonesian).
  • Kerja laboratorium Melalui Phet untuk meremediasi miskonsepsi siswa kelas VIII SMP Negeri 1 Sungai Raya pada materi Hukum Archimedes, Diar Dwi Winarto, Tanjungpura University (Indonesian).
  • Scientific Inquiry in Mathematics: A Case of Implementing Scientific Simulations for Analyzing Problems on Motion., Sokolowski, A..
  • Teachers using interactive simulations to scaffold inquiry instruction in physical science education, Geelan, D.R. & Fan, X., In J. Gilbert and B. Eilam (Eds.) Science Teachers' Use of Visual Representations. Dordrecht: Springer..
  • Action Research Paper for Master's in Interdisciplinary Studies at University of Northern Colorado: The Effect of Computer Simulations on Learning High School Physics, K. Bibbey.
  • Impact of Electronic Simulations on students’ learning in Lebanese 10th Grade Electricity Courses. (Ph.d research), F. Yehya.
  • Evaluating a Novel Instructional Sequence for Conceptual Development in Physics Using Interactive Simulations, Fan, X., Geelan, D. & Gillies, R., Submitted to the International Journal of Science Education, Under Review.