CO-made education tool used around the world, nearly doubled during pandemic

Boulder, Calaria (KDVR) – In the spring of 2020, teachers and parents around the world tried to find the best way to teach students without being able to be face to face. It turns out the tool, created in Colorado, has played a fundamental role in education around the world and has come into use over the past two years.

“PhET was founded in 2002 when Carl Wiemann won the Nobel Prize in Physics,” said Katie Perkins, director of PhET Interactive Simulations. “Through his experience of talking about the Nobel Prize-winning science, he discovered the power of interactive modeling and actually used some of his prize money to start a PhET.”

Wiman played a crucial role in the physics department of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and laid the foundation for interactive PhET modeling as a learning tool in the sciences.

The simulators are free, with over 160 different situations that have been translated into approximately 90 different languages. While use exceeded more than 100 million simulations conducted before the pandemic, in 2020 their number nearly doubled.

Provided by: CU Boulder

“When the pandemic came, we immediately realized that PhET modeling would be an important tool for science teachers,” Perkins said. “They were already used effectively in the classroom, but now science teachers had to leave the classrooms and leave the physical equipment they had.”

The first big growth step that the PhET team noticed at CU Boulder happened when classes were closed in Italy in 2020.

“When Italy first switched to distance learning, the use of simulations jumped fivefold overnight,” Perkins said. “And overall, internationally, we’re seeing about six times more than in 2019.”

As the pandemic weakens and COVID cases decrease in Colorado and across the country, classes are more consistently returning to personal learning. Perkins said she sees PhET as an adjunct to personal learning, although its popularity has grown in the era of distance learning.

“Simulation can really change the learning that takes place in the classroom,” Perkins said. “Many times teachers bring students together with the simulation and involve them in this research and discovery.”

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