A few years ago, I reviewed the PhET website, which, even at the time, had a dizzying array of interactive science simulations. Put together by the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, the site has been my go-to place for science simulations for what seems like a decade. They started with Physics simulations, but they’ve added simulations for plenty of other sciences, and later added math. They continue to add more as they are developed, and now have (if I’ve counted correctly) 134 different simulations, encompassing Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Math, at all different grade levels.
The amazing folks at PhET are working hard to get these simulations into the hands of as many kids as possible through their new app (called, unsurprisingly, PhET Simulations). It only costs 99¢, and the money they receive all goes back into making more and more simulations available in the app. Converting their sims to HTML5 can be difficult to find funding for, so all proceeds from the app go directly to the conversion effort. It’s self-sustaining.
For these interactive simulations, an app is a nicer interface than the website, since tablets are designed for people to truly interact with them. Plus, having simulations in this format gets them more easily into the hands of children, which is another of PhET’s goals. Since their simulations are aimed at elementary kids all the way up to university level, the more hands these get into, the better.
This iPad app includes some favorite HTML5 PhET simulations from their site. These can be used in the classroom, while you homeschool, at home, at work, and even offline. It includes many of the science and math sims and has some cool features. First of all, new sims are added automatically when they are released. Also, you can play with the simulations anywhere with offline play. No wi-fi needed. You can also mark your favorite sims to create your own “best of” list.
Watch your kids discover the joy of STEM learning by setting them free to explore the simulations. Here are some that might get their eyes to light up:
- Wave on a String
- Plinko Probability
- Balancing Act
- John Travoltage
- Energy Skate Park: Basics
- Balloons and Static Electricity
- Function Builder
- Forces and Motion: Basics
Most of these simulations have a variety of options and settings for playing around with science, where you can change one factor at a time, or all the factors. Do whatever you want. Instructions aren’t included, so discovering how everything works is most of the fun!
Kids are already having so much fun with this app that there is even a Twitter hashtag to collect photos of the kids playing with it. Now that so many of the simulations are in a portable format in the iPad app, they are getting in more and more kids’ hands. Some schools have entire class sets of iPads, making it easy to make this app available.
At the time of this writing, the app has 14 simulations designated for elementary school kids, 30 for middle school, 37 for high school, and 32 for university (there is considerable overlap among the grade levels, however). You can look at simulations by subject or grade level, see the simulations you’ve marked as your favorites, or search by keyword. Tap the “i” next to each simulation to see a brief description, which topics it covers, or tap on the heart to put it in your favorites list. The Settings option allows you to reset your favorites, update simulations, or toggle the ability to store all simulations offline.
Getting the PhET Simulations app is a no brainer. It’s fun for kids, informative for students, and a blast from the past for adults. The simulations will continue to always be free on the web, but the added benefit of portability and offline play make this iPad app an important piece of the STEM learning puzzle.
Note: The app doesn’t include the website’s Java or Flash simulations, so for those, the website is always available (and it’s free!).
The University of Colorado has several other apps as well, mostly covering astronomy topics, such as Planet Designer; Enceladus, I Barely Knew You; and Science at 100,000 Feet. All of these apps are free. Check them out!
Note: I received a redeem code for this app for review purposes.