Creative Constructor
Lab Virtual
Leadership Exchange
at ISTELive 21
Edtech Advocacy &
Policy Summit

Support Rich Mathematical Discussions and Investigations Using Interactive Simulations

Explore and create
Pre-registration required

Explore and create : BYOD

Monday, June 24, 1:30–2:30 pm
Location: 118A

Amanda McGarry  
Interactive simulations are flexible tools for exploring algebraic concepts while also fostering engagement, reasoning and sensemaking. Learn how to incorporate simulations into your pre-algebra and algebra classrooms, facilitate inquiry-based activities, and engage students in mathematical practices and discussions.

Audience: Coaches, Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: The PhET app, available in the iPad and Android app stores, is a seamless way to experience simulations, but is not necessary. All simulations are available for free at
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Online tools, apps and resources
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Math, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Students:
Creative Communicator
  • Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
For Educators:
  • Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Participants will learn research-based instructional strategies for using interactive simulations in the classroom. Participants will learn how to design and facilitate effective sim-based lessons that engage students in the content as well as the mathematical practices of problem-solving, reasoning, and argumentation. Time will be spent reflecting upon sample simulations, lessons, and videos of teacher practice, and discussing how these strategies can be applied in their own classrooms.


1. Introduction to Interactive Simulations for teaching and learning mathematics (10 minutes)
-Preview a math simulation from PhET (grade 6-8) ;

2. How do simulations help students learn mathematics and engage in mathematical discussions? (10 minutes)
-Research base
-Preview a math simulation (grade 9-12)
-Reflect on video of student sim use ;

3. What does a sim-based lesson look like? (30 minutes)
-Model sim-based lesson using a simulation (Grade 6-8), activity sheet, and lesson plan (participants will explore simulations on their devices, model student engagement, and brainstorm lesson ideas using simulations)
-Reflect on features of lesson and how it could be employed in various classrooms
-Reflect on classroom video ;

4. Where can I find simulations, lessons, and teacher resources? (10 minutes)
-Explore the PhET website to find relevant simulations and teaching resources (participants will explore website on their devices)

Supporting research

A meta-analysis of research on simulations in STEM education provides evidence for the benefits of simulations in STEM learning: D’Angelo, C., Rutstein, D., Harris, C., Bernard, R., Borokhovski, E. & Haertel, G. Simulations for STEM Learning: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (SRI International, 2014). Simulations and activity design presented here are aligned with the research base provided by these National Research Council documents: How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. (National Academy Press, 2000). How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom. (National Academies Press, 2005). These articles discuss the use of simulations to address the CCSS in Mathematics, and the second includes research results of improved student learning. Hensberry, K. K. R., Paul, A. J., Moore, E. B., Podolefsky, N. S. & Perkins, K. K. PhET Interactive Simulations: New Tools to Achieve Common Core Mathematics Standards. in Common Core Mathematics Standards and Implementing Digital Technologies: (ed. Polly, D.) (IGI Global, 2013). Hensberry, K., Moore, E. & Perkins, K. (2015). Effective Student Learning of Fractions with an Interactive Simulation. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 34(3), 273-298. Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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Amanda McGarry, PhET Interactive Simulations

Amanda McGarry currently leads University of Colorado Boulder's PhET math simulation design and teacher partnership initiative. She leads simulation design for new math simulations, works with teachers to design sim-based activities, and provides teacher resources such as sim-specific tips and teacher preparation videos. Amanda is a former master teacher with a MA in Math Education and a BA in Math. Amanda has previously presented about PhET simulations at the ISTE annual conference, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference, and the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference.

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