Simulations, Visualizations, and Interactives: When to use them, why you should use them, and where to find them

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Simulations, Visualizations, Interactive Applications and their place in education.

Learning in the year 2022 looks vastly different than it did in the early days of education theory development. Education has evolved from the traditional one-room schoolhouse to the application of constructivist theories in classrooms, student-centered learning, flexible learning models, and the advent of improvements in personalized learning

The shift away from drill, practice, memorization, and other more “traditional” approaches to learning has given way to an emphasis on 21st Century Skills education, and frequently employs more inquiry, experiences, and problem-solving than ever before. Using simulations and visualizations in the classroom can help address these skills, and give students experiences they might not have otherwise. 

The use of simulations, visualizations, and interactive applications in education has advanced from the medical procedure and flight simulation trainers that were reserved for the armed forces or medical school students, to full replication of legitimate scientific experiments and procedures designed and differentiated for elementary, middle, and high schoolers—and it’s usually all available for free or at a highly discounted rate. 

There are so many uses for these tools and they are more widely available than ever before. As a result, educators should be able to more easily learn to leverage technology and take advantage of them, especially when physical or financial resources are limited (free is always good right?).

Using these tools in the classroom can decrease prep time for lessons, lower materials costs, and help increase engagement, giving students a ‘hands-on’ experience to help them grasp concepts that are less concrete or more difficult to immerse them in physically due to lack of resources (trust me, we ALL know THAT struggle).

 Next, we will present a list of resources and tools, separated by subject, that are beneficial for teachers to organize, plan, and supplement their existing lessons with digital interactives and simulations.

Resources and tools for teachers

Below are several FREE resources and sites with descriptions of what they are and some ways in which to use them. Many of these resources also have areas within their websites to which teachers have contributed greatly, including lesson plans, tips, lesson extensions, and additional resources to go alongside the content featured.

PHET

Created and supported by the University of Colorado Boulder, this website has a massive amount of resources for teachers and students of all ages. It contains over 159 simulations translated into 104 languages alongside 3,128 teacher-submitted lessons to accompany the activities and simulations. PHET makes an effort to modify and create activities and simulations for learners with special needs as well.

  • Searchable database of all activities – user-friendly and searchable by simulation name, type, subject, grade level, and language.
  • Teacher guide for using PHET, how to navigate the site, view resources, and contribute resources.
PhysicsChemistryMathEarth ScienceBiology
● Motion
● Sound, & Waves 
● Work, Energy, & Power 
● Heat & Thermo 
● Quantum Phenomena 
● Light & Radiation Electricity, Magnets, & Circuits
● General Chemistry 
– Atoms, Molecules, Atomic Structure
– Gasses
– Laws
– Density
– pH, Acids, & Bases
– Waves
– Chemical Equations
– Concentration and Molarity
● Quantum Chemistry
● Math Concepts
– Number Lines, Ratios, & Proportions
– Vectors
– Fractions
– Quadratics
– Equality
– Area Models
– Algebra & Expressions
– Slope
– Unit Rates
– Functions
– Probability
● Math Applications
● Gasses
● Diffusion
● Density
● Greenhouse Effect
● Gravity
● Orbits
● Waves
● Pressure
● Blackbody Spectrum
● Natural Selection
● Gene Expression
● Polarity
● Neurons
● Color Vision

Nobel Prize Educational Games and Simulations

This website contains content centered around Nobel Prize laureates and their work. Lessons, activities, and interactives are featured here, specifically focused on high-impact projects from previous awards. Each simulation and application comes with useful teaching materials to go alongside the experience.

Arthur Lakes Library OER Compilation

This library keeps an up-to-date list of many different educational simulations, visualizations, and applications that have great applications for a variety of grade levels and subject areas. Each category listed below has a vast array of different types of simulations.

The library also has a compilation of other resources for teachers, organized by subject area, which is a wonderful tool as well.

WOLFRAM Demonstrations Project

This site has 12,000+ interactive notebooks, simulations, visualizations, and applications selected and curated by Wolfram Research. Each category has several subcategories, and is easily searchable and user-friendly to find what you are looking for. 

Much of the content is visualizations and simulations of events, rather than fully interactive applications, but there are still many interactive elements in each of the subject areas. This is an excellent site for supplementary materials for almost any subject.

Multi-Disciplinary Multimedia Resource Sites

These sites are filled with free resources and materials for teachers, including simulations, applications, and visualizations, but also including lesson plans and other teaching materials. 

  • CK-12 – open-source content and technology tools for teachers that are separated by subject, grade level, and language. Includes free customizable digital textbooks.
  • edu-Media – open source content focused on interactive resources in math and science
  • LabXchange – digital science labs, videos, and activities
  • Molecular Workbench – visual interactive simulations with lessons and embedded assessments. Includes model and lesson plan creation tools for teachers.

When do I use these in my classroom?

Research indicates that many simulation and interactive tools, when used to supplement a teacher’s existing curriculum, can enhance learning. This means that teachers should look for areas in their lessons or courses where there is a lack of interactivity for the students or an area where students traditionally struggle in understanding and use simulations and visualizations as another way for students to see and interact with the content. 

The ability to personalize learning with these tools is also highly suggested, as this can help teachers differentiate instruction when using flexible learning models, and help make sure that each student gets what they need to succeed. Lastly, many of these interactive tools come with their own assessment tools, so they can be used as formative assessments for teachers to check understanding of a lesson, in order to see if students have mastered a concept.

Final thoughts

Simulations, visualizations, and other similar interactive tools can have great benefits for student learning when used as tools to supplement learning. Take the time to navigate through some of these resources that were discussed here, and bring them into the classroom to help reduce some of the workloads, allow students time to explore concepts on their own, and integrate the use of technology into a variety of lesson topics!

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Nikolas McGehee

Nikolas McGehee

Dr. Nikolas McGehee received his doctorate in Exceptional Learning and STEM Education from Tennessee Technological University. He has worked as a high school science teacher, university researcher, analyst, and project manager, as well as a STEM Education program manager. His professional career is focused upon improving educational processes and products by performing sound research and making data driven decisions.

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