The Next Generation Science Standards encourage the use and development of models that facilitate students’ ability to make predictions while learning about a particular topic. For years, PhET has successfully developed simulations to help teachers and students do so. Though typically and historically recognized as a resource for physics teachers, the PhET group at the University of Colorado Boulder has created a plethora of simulations pertinent to several STEM subjects, including biology.
These simulations engage students in exploratory activities that inherently solicit inquiry. In other words, students will find themselves tinkering with interactive components, noticing how different inputs affect outputs, and naturally wondering about the reasons behind the differences. About 23 simulations make up the collection housed under the “Biology” link. These range from molecular motors and membrane channels to reaction rates and gene expression. Each simulation comes equipped with layers of settings that facilitate students’ conceptual development from basic to complex.
These interactive learning environments do not stand alone. Learning goals and teaching guides accompany each, as well as a variety of supplemental worksheets designed by educators specifically for the simulation selected. Each worksheet or teaching guide includes information about its authors, including e-mail addresses, allowing teachers to reach out for clarification and other resources.
Translating their work into more than two dozen languages and making it searchable by topic and grade level, the PhET team has gone over and beyond to ensure that the simulations are accessible to all. Each one runs online as a Java program, or teachers can download them to a USB drive and run them on a computer that may not have Internet access. Clearly, the team has thought carefully about creating resources that go beyond the basic interactive demonstration; these simulations will function as tools to stimulate learning in the life science classroom.
REMY DOU taught high school life science for eight years before becoming an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow (2011–2013). Currently, he works as a Graduate Assistant at Florida International University where he contributes to STEM education research.