Reflection: Developing a Conceptual Understanding Exploring Phase Changes - Section 3: Computer Simulation


I am fortunate to be in a district that spends money on resources for teachers, providing access to both the free PhET site and the pay-walled ExploreLearning simulations.  Students sometimes wonder why I choose to use one simulation vs another, or why I might use both at different times.

I find PhET to be better for basic understandings, but also better suited to more open inquiry.  It can be a little more cartoonish, so sometimes it is harder to use.  When looking for resources, I almost always look here first.  The issue I find at PhET is that it is much easier here to write my own activities, which allows me to zoom in right on the part of the simulation or specific learning objective I am trying to teach.

The ExploreLearning site comes with approved student exploration sheets.  These are excellent, but are often cook book style activities.  Due to this, I often modify them to some degree.  The exploration for this particular lesson is slightly adapted from the one posted on the site.  The one advantage I consistently find with ExploreLearning is the graphics are generally better.

For example, in the PhET States of Matter simulation, you could only see the particles.  In the ExploreLearning, the particles are represented as parts of the ice, water, and steam.  This dual graphic allows students to contextualize what they are seeing and connect it better to their own experiences.

Ultimately, you have to choose what is best for your students and your available technology.  I find that mixing these with each other allows me to capitalize on the strengths of both programs, and provide the best models to my students.

  Which Simulation is best?
  Developing a Conceptual Understanding: Which Simulation is best?
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Exploring Phase Changes

Unit 3: Intermolecular Forces
Lesson 3 of 9

Objective: SWBAT relate the temperature of a sample to the speed of its molecules, and therefore its state of matter.

Big Idea: Visualizing molecular speed helps students understand the microscopic properties of matter in different phases.

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explore learning phase change
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