Kathy Perkins

Kathy Perkins

Kathy Perkins

PhET Interactive Simulations, University of Colorado Boulder

United States

Keynote Title: Advancing Science and Math Education Worldwide through OER: Lessons Learned From Phet Interactive Simulations

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education have become a priority for nations around the world, yet many students – in both developing and developed countries – lack access to high quality STEM learning experiences. For 17 years, the PhET Interactive Simulations team has been working to make science and math more engaging and accessible for all learners, worldwide. The challenge faced by educators is that effective STEM learning environments must support student understanding of core concepts, engage students in STEM practices, and develop students to think like STEM experts. The PhET project has focused on creating simulations that simultaneously address these three learning goals, are grounded in education research, work flexibly with a variety of research-based pedagogies, and promote widespread adoption. Today, our collection of 153 interactive simulations are translated into 93 languages and used over 100 million times per year. In this talk, we will reflect on the journey from 2002 to today, examining critical decision points, lessons learned, and innovations around pedagogy, design, technology, licensing, and dissemination that have influenced PhET’s work and its impact. We will consider the role of education research and the question of what to make (and not make) easily adaptable. Finally, we will look ahead to the challenges and opportunities on the horizon – bringing science inquiry to students with disabilities, advancing teacher practice, growing international use, and building a sustainable business model.


Dr. Kathy Perkins directs PhET Interactive Simulations at the University of Colorado Boulder, and is a faculty member in Physics Education Research. Her work focuses on advancing the design and classroom use of interactive simulations to increase engagement and learning in STEM, and on scaling impact with open educational resources. Her work and research in STEM education also include sustainable course reform, students’ beliefs about science, and institutional change.

She holds a BA in physics (1992), MA in chemistry (2000), and a PhD in atmospheric science (2000), all from Harvard University. In 2003, she joined Carl Wieman and the PhET project, serving as co-Director (2008-10) and Director (2010-). She served as Associate Director (2006-10) and Director (2010-16) of CU’s Science Education Initiative. She has authored over 60 articles on STEM education. Under her leadership, PhET has received international recognition, including being named a 2017 WISE Awards Winner, a 2011 Tech Award Laureate, and winner of the 2014 Reimagine Education Award, and has grown to over 100 million simulation uses/year worldwide. In 2016, her team launched PhET-iO simulations, interoperable simulations enabling customization, integration, and data for assessment with learning analytics.

Back to Keynotes