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Stimulating Simulations

M.S. (Blaine, WA) sent me a nice note with a suggested website. He writes: "...I came across a couple of sites that I found interesting... and might put links to from your Nexus website.... The first is for physics, but I used the Hook's Law sim for my Alg 1 successfully. It has enough of the right hands-on qualities to keep the kids interested, and the results decent. It also has a couple of nice applets for trig and calculus worth investigating."

The web site suggested by M.S. is Interactive Simulations, an outgrowth of the PhET project at the University of Colorado. Though the simulations are science-based, they do involve some good mathematics. Claiming to be "research-based," the simulations are designed to "enable students to make connections between real life phenomena and the underlying science which explains such phenomena."

Amidst a content focus of the simulations (physics, biology, chemistry, earth science, and mathematics), the FREE simulations are categorized by purpose (tools or applications) and by grade level (elementary, middle school, high school, and university).

Some suggested examples for you to explore:

  • Projectile Motion
  • Plinko Probability
  • Estimation
  • Moving Man (see visual)
  • Vector Addition
  • Curve Fitting
  • Calculus Grapher
  • Equation Grapher
  • Wave on a String
  • Pendulum Lab
  • The Ramp
  • Fourier: Making Waves
Plus, these two motivating games:
  • Maze Game
  • Arithmetic
Yet, feel free to browse through the other science categories, as you probably will find other simulations of interest. For example, I found:
  • Natural Selection
  • Radioactive Dating Game
  • Lunar Lander (Variation of an old favorite)
Most of the activities are complemented by "Teacher Ideas and Activities," which include homework assignments, lectures, supplementary activities, conceptual assessment questions, etc. Plus, the web site coordinators ask for your input, whether in the form of review, reactions, or additional learning activities.

Finally, The PhET group provides a good overview of what an educational simulation should provide: "In order to help students visually comprehend these concepts, PhET simulations animate what is invisible to the eye through the use of graphics and intuitive controls such as click-and-drag manipulation, sliders and radio buttons. In order to further encourage quantitative exploration, the simulations also offer measurement instruments including rulers, stop-watches, voltmeters and thermometers. As the user manipulates these interactive tools, responses are immediately animated thus effectively illustrating cause-and-effects relationships as well as multiple linked representations (motion of the objects, graphs, number readouts, etc…"

So, thank to both M.S. and to the PhET group...job well-done!