Let’s play with PhET in class

By Herman M. Lagon

IN A WORLD where education is ever-changing, technology becomes more than just a tool for convenience—it becomes a necessary and effective teaching-learning assistant. The PhET Interactive Simulations is one such transformative tool, particularly impactful for teaching science and mathematics in the country.

PhET, a project from the University of Colorado Boulder, offers free, research-backed math and science simulations. These user-friendly platforms allow students and educators to explore and understand complex scientific and mathematical concepts interactively, enhancing traditional teaching methods through a hands-on, constructivist approach. It is easily accessible at https://phet.colorado.edu/.

My recent study delved into the experiences of six future science teachers who used PhET simulations in my physics class. The research sought to explore these digital platforms’ potential advantages, drawbacks, and transformative effects. Unlike traditional lecture formats, PhET allowed these participants to “touch” and “see” abstract concepts in optics, inside or outside class hours, bringing clarity and more profound understanding to students.

Imagine this: A once abstract concept like light reflection, refraction, and diffraction—in different kinds and combinations of lenses and mirrors—becomes a jigsaw puzzle where each piece finally fits. These simulations are not just bystanders in the learning process; they are active participants. Our aspiring educators did not just read about the interplay of light—they saw, touched, and manipulated it. They eventually constructed their big scientific ideas and owned them for good.

However, the merits of PhET do not eclipse the value of traditional teaching methods. Instead, they enhance it. In a classroom setting, lecture-based instruction and interactive simulations can work harmoniously. This dual approach forms a balanced educational ecosystem, especially in the post-pandemic context. However, it is essential to tread carefully; almost all educators know by experience that excessive reliance on any single teaching method, even a tech-savvy one, has its pitfalls.

Not everything is smooth, though. Slow internet speeds and limited device compatibility can create bumps in the learning journey. These challenges, while palpable, also highlight a silver lining—the cost-effectiveness of PhET. The application is free and can be a great equalizer in a country where educational resources may be scarce. Nonetheless, the need for PhET offline accessibility and compatibility with basic tech devices has been rightly underscored by the PhET interface.

What does all this mean for the future? For would-be and present science and math teachers, this is key to enriching teaching methods and stimulating a hunger for knowledge among students. For researchers, it adds to the growing chorus advocating for interactive learning. In essence, these findings give our educators a guide or option to foster an education that blends tradition with innovation, fully resonant to form well-rounded individuals.

So, as we, dearest teachers in both basic and higher education, embrace the limitless potential of educational technology, we are always encouraged to find our balance. Let us use free digital tools like PhET not as the end goal but as a means to enrich understanding, spark curiosity, and enlighten the minds of the present generation. In this educational journey, the overarching goal is not just to light up classrooms but to ignite souls.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.