Science - Imitate to appreciate

14th December 2012 at 00:00

What it's all about

In school, we are often forced to use online simulations because of lack of equipment or fears about safety. However, these can actually enhance learning, as pupils are freer to experiment and play, writes Simon Porter.

The excellent, free PHeT website run by the University of Colorado ( contains simulations that range from easy and quick static electricity exercises suitable for key stage 3 (S1-3) to complex and subtle quantum physics that would stretch the most able sixth-year student. Simulations are available in all science subjects.

"John Travoltage" is a simple and funny simulation that involves the Hollywood legend rubbing his foot against the carpet and touching a door handle, demonstrating the production of static charge by the action of friction on an insulator, and the charge flowing to earth.

"Balloons and Static Electricity" takes pupils a step further, showing charge build-up as a flow of electrons and balloons being attracted to a wall by the separation of charge in it.

"Build an Atom" enables pupils to understand how electrons arrange themselves in orbits around the nucleus of an atom, and how this is related to the number of protons in the nucleus. Pupils can build any element in the periodic table before testing their learning in a game that questions them on the subatomic composition of different atoms.

The PHeT site is full of sophisticated simulations that can be used by all levels.

What else?

Try Simon Porter's lessons on static electricity, gas properties and turning forces. bit.lyTravoltage, bit.lyGas Properties, bit.lyTurningForces. Also check out PheT's resources at bit.lytespHet.

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