It’s great to be a STEM teacher these days! We have a plethora of technology tools to help us improve teaching and learning in our classroom. One of the greatest tools for teaching science and math that I have used are online simulations. The following simulation products are my favorites and are similar in many ways. I use all of them in my classroom several times a week, and almost daily to help me bring abstract concepts to life for my students. I am a proponent of inquiry based learning. I allow my students to experiment with simulations and labs to allow them to experience the concepts they are learning about first hand. I love each of these simulation programs for the following reasons:
Great Interactive Simulations: They are vibrant, colorful, fun, and interactive. Students get to explore very abstract concepts by inquiring about how the simulation works, making hypotheses, testing hypotheses, and drawing conclusions from their observations.
Teacher Materials and Student Lab Sheets: Each of these programs includes student lab sheets to help guide student investigations. They also include background information on science concepts for teachers, and tips on using the simulations with students.
Individualized: Each of these simulations can be assigned to individual students for them to complete as a station or center activity, for homework, or for remediation on a concept that they need extra practice with.
Great Ways to Use Simulations in the Classroom
In addition to inquiry based lessons focused on student discovery of science and math concepts, simulations can be used in the following ways in the classroom:
- Embed pictures and screenshots from the simulation in tests: Take pictures and screenshots of data gathered while completing the simulation, and include it in a unit test to illustrate concepts for students.
- Create a learning station: Include a virtual simulation at a station as a part of a lesson. Students can rotate among lesson activity stations and share limited computer resources in the classroom to experience the simulations.
- Create reading comprehension sheets: Use the background lesson information to create a reading comprehension activity or cloze notes to aid students with reading for information and note taking.
- Create a writing prompt: Use a picture from the simulation to create a writing prompt.
- Create pre-and post- assessments: Assess student prior knowledge and identify student misconceptions by using the simulation and targeted questions to assess student ideas before a unit of study and after a unit of study.
- Use when you have a substitute teacher: If students are familiar with using the simulations, they can be assigned when you have a substitute to keep students engaged, and to review concepts.
- Teach the scientific method: Experiment with the simulation and model the scientific method for students.
- Save Money, Materials, and Time: Simulations allow students to experiment with concepts that teachers may not have the materials and time to re-create in a classroom setting. No expensive equipment, or hours of set-up time are required with computer simulations.
The Best STEM Simulation Products
Discovery Education Science
I use Discovery Education Science simulations as G.R.A.S .P.s and to provide real world context for science concepts to my students. Goal Role Audience Situation Product. In the Critters virtual lab, students are asked to be zoologists and write a report recommending habitat features for a new and finicky creature at the zoo. This provides a real world context for the use of the science knowledge that is being taught to students.
Gizmos contains over 450 interactive math and science simulations for content covered in grades 3-12. Almost any concept taught in math and science in grades 3-12 has a corresponding simulation in Gizmos. I have used Gizmos with 5th grade math classes, and high school chemistry students. Clayton County Public Schools recently purchased Gizmos for use in all of the classrooms in the county in math and science in grades 3-12. Sign up for a free 30 day trial!
These are fun, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena from the PhET project at the University of Colorado. These simulations are FREE and may be run from the Internet site or downloaded to a computer and run from individual computers. Student worksheets and lab interactions are provided by classroom teachers. Anyone may contribute to the worksheets and activities that accompany the Phet simulations.