This project (2018-1-SE01-KA201-039098) has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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PhET Interactive Simulations (state of mattter)
The movement of molecules and their state of matter at different temperatures and pressure
Yuen-ying Carpenter et al
University of Colorado Boulder
Web Site/Portal, Mobile Apps, Downloadable material
14 – 16 years old
Math, Chemistry
PhET Interactive Simulations are web-based simulations to explore concepts in natural sciences and math. A user can filter for subject (physics, chemistry, biology, math and earth science), grade level (elementary school to university), compatibility (Java, Flash or HTML), accessibility (alternative input, interactive description, zoom and magnification or sound and sonification) and between 80 different languages. It is possible to download simulations to your computer.
The simulations are simple and intuitive. It is easy to alter parameters and observe the results. Teachers can use the simulations for demonstrations or students can use them for practical exercises. PhET offers video material where teachers describe how the simulations can be used in the classroom. They aim at inquiry-oriented teaching, encouraging students to ask questions.
The advantage of simulations in science is that they make it possible to observe how different factors affect certain chemical processes or physical phenomena.
The simulation that shows the state of matter is useful for visualizing the behavior of molecules at increasing and decreasing temperature or pressure. However, the drawings and simulations are very abstract, and molecules are displayed as symbolic objects that might be difficult to understand.
Carl Wieman, a Nobel prize laurate, created PhET interactive simulations to improve teaching and learning. It belongs to a project at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is associated with research projects on students’ usage and design of the simulations, studying how efficient simulations are for learning and how students interact with the simulations.
A teacher at Ronnaskolan asked the students to look at the simulation of states of matter, write down what they observed and describe with their own words. The students were reported to have been enthusiastic and engaged during the exercise. Students that normally were bored and have problems to sit still and focus, wished that the teacher would do more lessons with simulations.
I used this simulation with a mixed ability (mostly lower ability) second year science class. The students were on average fourteen years old.
The simulation was excellent in demonstrating how the atoms and molecules became excited when heat was added and again it demonstrated brilliantly what happened to the molecules and atoms are subjected to temperatures as low as -272 degrees celsius. It also nicely demonstrated how atoms and molecules present in a nice, orderly regular shape when they are in a solid and how the shape and structure was lost as they transitioned into a liquid and then into a gas. This is a lovely simulation to use for the visual learner in the classroom and when it was demonstrated in a second year mixed ability class during the period of remote teaching, I received positive feedback from the more able students. Even though it is visually pleasing, students must have a decent amount of prior learning and knowledge in order to appreciate what happens to atoms and molecules when heat is added or taken away or what happens when pressure is increased or decreased before they will have an appreciation for this simulation.
It certainly is a useful tool however, to recap this topic. I felt that it might be improved slightly if the temperature could be inputted manually rather than having to hold the temperature button as it was going between such extreme temperatures. I thought that this was a little time consuming, particularly compared to the overall usage time of the simulation.
The ‘Interaction’ part of the simulation was not as useful to me as the ‘States” part and the ‘phase changes’ part. Again, it is a nice visual piece but the content was not pertaining to the science course which my second year cohort are currently undertaking. I feel that it would be more useful for senior cycle students where a greater in depth knowledge of atoms and molecules is required.