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Peer Review

PhET - Physics Education Technology at the University of Colorado



Overall Numeric Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 4.25 starsstar
Reviewed: Jul 08, 2013 by Teacher Education
Overview: PhET provides fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free. They believe that their research-based approach- incorporating findings from prior research and our own testing- enables students to make connections between real-life phenomena and the underlying science, deepening their understanding and appreciation of the physical world. All PhET simulations are freely available from the PhET website and are easy to use and incorporate into the classroom. They are written in Java and Flash, and can be run using a standard web browser as long as Flash and Java are installed.
Type of Material: Collection
Recommended Uses: Elementary - high school science and math classes could use these simulations in an online setting, as homework, as extra practice and for remediation. Professors in methods classes could use these simulations for lesson plan development and/or demonstration of concepts.
Technical Requirements: Java and Flash are required for some of the simulations. Windows Systems Intel Pentium processor Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/7 256MB RAM minimum Approximately 330 MB available disk space (for full installation) 1024x768 screen resolution or better Sun Java 1.5.0_15 or later Adobe Flash Player 9 or later Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or later, Firefox 2 or later Macintosh Systems G3, G4, G5 or Intel processor OS 10.5 or later 256MB RAM minimum Approximately 319 MB available disk space (for full installation) 1024x768 screen resolution or better Apple Java 1.5.0_19 or later Adobe Flash Player 9 or later Safari 2 or later, Firefox 2 or later Linux Systems Intel Pentium processor 256MB RAM minimum Approximately 316 MB disk space (for full installation) 1024x768 screen resolution or better Sun Java 1.5.0_15 or later Adobe Flash Player 9 or later Firefox 2 or later At this time tablet/iPad/Android device platforms do not fully support Java or Flash, which is required to run PhET simulations. iPads cannot run any of PhET's sims because these devices lack full support for Java and Flash. Android devices cannot run any of PhET's Java sims (the devices' java functionality is too limited). These devices can run a limited number of our Flash sims, but these sims will have poor performance and user input response on these devices. In addition to the lack of support for required platforms, porting PhET sims to iPad/tablet devices is not simply a matter of rewriting the code in another language. PhET sims are designed for devices with a mouse and keyboard. There are certain things that are awkward with a touch screen (like typing, especially when the virtual keyboard covers what you want to look at, and right clicking), and some things that are impossible (like hovering over objects).
Identify Major Learning Goals: The overall goal of the program is to help students visually comprehend concepts in math and science as they manipulate the interactive research-based simulations, seeing the cause and effect relationship. Each of the simulations has its own goals.
Target Student Population: Elementary through high school students; higher education; teacher training
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Some understanding of science concepts are needed in order to get the most from the simulations. Using the materials that accompany the simulations is recommended.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The material content is strong, up-to-date, and recognized as valid by experts in the areas. There are multiple materials and workshops available to support educators in their use of the materials.
Concerns: Teachers need to realize that they must do some preparation work for the simulations and use the workshops and other materials that are available on the site before using the simulations with students.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: There are multiple teaching resources with learning goals, materials, and teacher guides in addition to the simulations themselves. In addition, teaching ideas are provided and members are encouraged to add to the resources. Many of the resources are downloadable and can be embedded in user's own pages or courses. Each of the simulations has its own goals which are stated explicitly. There is a wide variety of topics in science and mathematics for many grade levels. There are so many translations of the materials! 24 different languages are represented.
Concerns: The simulations do require that teachers spend time reviewing the materials that are provided. This would not be a site to send students to without any guidance.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.25 stars
Strengths: Supporting materials are extensive.
Concerns: The simulations without the supporting materials might be confusing. The reviewers had difficulty using the simulations with the Chrome browser. As well, those on i-devices would experience the inability to use the simulations. They can access the supporting materials, however. Many students use mobile technology and educators must take this account before requiring this material in class.

Other Issues and Comments: Other than issues with universal access, we find this to be a wonderful site for educators in science and mathematics.