Science class is a great place for hands-on activities, but there are some activities that you can't do hands-on. Its great to be able to at least give students some experience with those activities in a virtual environment, as opposed to just lecture. There are many alternatives for doing online 'virtual labs.' Here are a few of my favorites.
Advantages of Virtual Labs
There are advantages to doing a virtual lab. Sometimes you don't have the materials, space, resources/weather etc to do a particular activity in class. There might be something that needs a high powered microscope, or a topic that has to be done outside that you can't carry out during class time. Some topics just CAN'T be hands-on. There are some great visualizations to understand and model things that are too small, or too abstract to do hands-on. They have to be done through a model. Sometimes a model is preferable because students can test different variables, repeat it, and pause/slow down/speed up at their own pace. Maybe a student missed class, or needs an extension or extra credit, or an additional project on a certain topic.
Hands-on is great, but there are lots of good reasons to use a virtual lab as well.
Just to be clear, these are not just game sites, or simple animations, but actual online labs. Most have questions or activities that go with them, and they are really designed to help students work on higher level topics.
Here are a few of my favorites...
My Top 5 Virtual Lab Sources
5) Phet Simulations - Probably the most famous simulation site....these cover a range of topics, more heavily focused on physics and chemistry. Most of these are simply the simulation, rather than a lab with built in questions. However, I listed them here because you can manipulate variables and there are so many ways to utilize these simulations. Such a variety of topics.
4) Pearson AP Biology LabBench - These are virtual versions of each of the 12 AP Biology Labs. This would be a great way to reinforce. Students can work through each lab, and a 'self-quiz' is included at the end.
3) McGraw Hill Virtual Biology Labs - These are (obviously from the name) all biology labs. There are some great alternatives here to dissections, or labs you couldn't do hands-on, such as gene splicing and sex-linked traits.
2) Exploring Earth This website correlates to the McDougall Littel Exploring Earth textbook, but you don't have to have the textbook to use it. This focuses on Earth Science investigations and animations. For the purposes of this post, again, we will focus on investigations. There are great investigations about the Age of the Seafloor, rock formation, tides, and many other Earth Science topics.
1) HHMI Biointeractive - HHMI is Howard Hughes Medical Institute. They have an outstanding collection of videos, images, readings, etc online that apply to science education, particularly Biology. For the purposes of this post, you probably want to focus on the "Virtual Labs" or "Classroom Resources - Activity." On the left hand side they have tags to show what courses they would correlate to, as well as topics. There are materials here for high school and AP courses.
- Virtual Microscope tutorial (and accompanying worksheet/lesson plan)
- Genetic Engineering Simulation (and accompanying hands-on lab)
What are your favorite virtual lab websites? How do you use them in class?