Thursday, April 23, 2015

PhET is Phabulous!

This week I started a two week unit on atomic structure and spectroscopy.  To kick of this unit, I turned to one of my favorite resources:  PhET Interactive Simulations.  PhET is wonderful resource from the University of Colorado that provides a wide range of science and math simulations.   PhET Website.  The folks at PhET have thought of just about everything.  Their simulations are simple enough to understand the concepts quickly, but true to the correct experimental results.  They have excellent resources for each simulation that are "ready to use" or available for adaptation.  They have a team of teachers who give webinars to help teachers learn many techniques for incorporating the simulations into the classroom.  I like to use one of their simulations for each unit I teach because they offer the students an interactive view of chemistry on the molecular level.  This link includes downloadable file with an overview of the simulations for chemistry and how they integrate with a typical chemistry curriculum.  Chemistry Simulations Aligned to Chemistry Curriculum

 "Build an Atom" was the perfect launching point for my students to review the structure of the atom and master the concept of isotopes.  Link to Build an Atom Simulation.  All of the students learned this information in their physical science classes in middle school, but the review is an important way to put everyone on the same page.

Students create atoms from the buckets of subatomic particles.
What I love about this particular simulation is watching students build their own atoms out of buckets of subatomic particles.  The first thing I asked them to do is play around with the simulation and write down two things they notice.  One student said, "One neutron in the nucleus is not an atom."  I was so excited to hear him say this; it brings up a wonderful question about what actually makes an atom.  The students quickly relate the proton count to the elements in the periodic table.  They can track the mass of the atom as they add particles, and watch the charge change.  This may be the first time this year that some of my students really understood the concept of an ion.  "Build an Atom" is the perfect vehicle to introduce isotopes.  At the end of the day, my students were completely up to speed on the structure of the atom, ions, and isotopes.

"Build an Atom" has several games built into the simulation.  These fun games are a great way for student to check their understanding of the concepts and practice.  Here's a sample question from one of the games, along with the smiley face when I got it right.

Hurray, I got the question right!
Thank you, PhET for making these amazing science simulations and developing excellent resources to go with them.  This powerful tool is a great complement to hands-on laboratory work.

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