This article appeared in the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning September 15, 2006. This paper introduces a new suite of computer simulations from the Physics Education Technology (PhET) project, identifies features of these educational tools, and demonstrates their utility. We compare the use of PhET simulations to the use of more traditional educational resources in lecture, laboratory, recitation and informal settings of introductory college physics. In each case we demonstrate that simulations are as productive, or more productive, for developing student conceptual understanding as real equipment, reading resources, or chalk-talk lectures. We further identify six key characteristic features of these simulations that begin to delineate why these are productive tools. The simulations: support an interactive approach, employ dynamic feedback, follow a constructivist approach, provide a creative workplace, make explicit otherwise inaccessible models or phenomena, and constrain students productively.
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