What would happen in the universe if the sun was more massive? Why does a balloon stick to a wall? How do you know that gravitational, electric and magnetic force fields exist? These are just a few of the questions the 8th graders were able to explore and answer in science using PhET Interactive Simulations created by University of Colorado Boulder.
Students explored six major topics related to forces and interactions using the simulations in three ways. First, students individually played and manipulated the simulations to explore and answer guided practice questions and solve various scenarios. Next, students collaborated to explain and describe their understanding to each other in small groups. Then in their small groups, students presented their answers to teacher-selected questions from the activities to the whole class giving students an opportunity to reflect on their learning.
Utilizing simulations in science is an effective learning tool for students for multiple reasons. First, simulations give students access to investigate real-world phenomena in the classroom that would otherwise be inaccessible, such as the role of gravity in the universe. Second, they foster fun, active, engagement experiences for all students. Third, students can individualize their learning by having the ability to run and rerun simulations to assist in mastering the learning of key scientific concepts. Fourth, students are able to see the interconnections amongst scientific concepts, such as in this unit—gravitational, electric and magnetic forces and force fields. Fifth, the simulations provide natural collaboration opportunities for students to share with each other their learning experiences and practice scientific conversation just like scientists. Overall, science simulations offer our 8th graders an awesome opportunity for scientific inquiry.
By: Mrs. Kruse, NBCT, 8th grade science