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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1860/1112

Title: An investigation of the use of microcomputer-based laboratory simulations in promoting conceptual understanding in secondary physics instruction
Authors: Tomshaw, Stephen G.
Keywords: Education;Physics--Education;Computer simulation
Issue Date: 27-Sep-2006
Abstract: Physics education research has shown that students bring alternate conceptions to the classroom which can be quite resistant to traditional instruction methods (Clement, 1982; Halloun & Hestenes, 1985; McDermott, 1991). Microcomputer-based laboratory (MBL) experiments that employ an active-engagement strategy have been shown to improve student conceptual understanding in high school and introductory university physics courses (Thornton & Sokoloff, 1998). These (MBL) experiments require a specialized computer interface, type-specific sensors (e.g. motion detectors, force probes, accelerometers), and specialized software in addition to the standard physics experimental apparatus. Tao and Gunstone (1997) have shown that computer simulations used in an active engagement environment can also lead to conceptual change. This study investigated 69 secondary physics students’ use of computer simulations of MBL activities in place of the hands-on MBL laboratory activities. The average normalized gain <g> in students’ conceptual understanding was measured using the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE). Student attitudes towards physics and computers were probed using the Views About Science Survey (VASS) and the Computer Attitude Scale (CAS). While it may be possible to obtain an equivalent level of conceptual understanding using computer simulations in combination with an active-engagement environment, this study found no significant gains in students’ conceptual understanding (<g> = -0.02) after they completed a series of nine simulated experiments from the Tools for Scientific Thinking curriculum (Thornton & Sokoloff, 1990). The absence of gains in conceptual understanding may indicate that either the simulations were ineffective in promoting conceptual change or problems with the implementation of the treatment inhibited its effectiveness. There was a positive shift in students’ attitudes towards physics in the VASS dimensions of structure and reflective thinking, while there was a negative shift in students’ attitudes towards computers in the CAS subscales of anxiety and usefulness. The negative shift in attitudes towards computers may be due to the additional time and work required by the students to perform the simulation experiments with no apparent reward in terms of their physics grade. Suggestions for future research include a qualitative element to observe student interactions and alternate formats for the simulations themselves.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1860/1112
Appears in Collections:Drexel Theses and Dissertations

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