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PERC 2015 Abstract Detail Page

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Abstract Title: Student learning with PhET simulations: Beyond conceptual gains in classroom settings
Abstract: PhET simulations are widely used in high school and college physics classes, but only limited research has explored students' thinking and learning when interacting with the simulations.  In this raucous structured poster session, we explore students' cognition and learning when using PhET simulations, in ways that go beyond documenting conceptual gains from collaborative active learning. By doing so, we hope to bring together creative approaches to studying conceptual, epistemological, and affective aspects of students' thinking and learning when using PhET sims, sparking discussions of how to push this research forward.  After a brief introduction to the session, participants will cycle through a subset of the posters.   Then, the Discussant will comment on the posters in provocative ways designed to spur a fruitful discussion during the rest of the session.
Abstract Type: Parallel session: Poster Symposium

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Andrew Elby
University of Maryland
and Co-Presenter(s)
Eric Kuo

Symposium Specific Information

Discussant: Andrew Elby
Moderator: Eric Kuo
Presentation 1 Title: Are simulations better than hands-on activities? – The wrong question
Presentation 1 Authors: Engin Bumbacher, Shima Salehi, and Carl Wieman
Presentation 1 Abstract: In an experimental study, we compared community college students engaged in learning the physical relationships of two physical systems, using either PhET simulations or hands-on physical environments.  In both activities, the best predictor of learning was a type of strategy that consisted of experimental manipulations that (1) followed a control of variable strategy (CVS), (2) occurred with a delay between experiments, and (3) targeted particularly difficult relationships that the participants were less familiar with. For one physical system, this strategy was more common in the simulation condition, whereas for the other system it was more common in the hands-on condition. From this, we argue that future research should focus on understanding productive learning strategies and mechanisms supported by different learning environments, not just on which environment is best.
Presentation 2 Title: Teaching and assessing scientific inquiry strategies using PhET simulations
Presentation 2 Authors: Luke Conlin
Presentation 2 Abstract: In this study, we used PhET simulations to teach 100 8th-grade students to use one of two inquiry strategies for discovering relations between variables.  Half of the students were taught to use a deductive approach, the Control of Variables Strategy (CVS), while the other half were taught a more inductive approach we call the General Principle Strategy (GPS).  After eight class sessions, students completed a strategy transfer task, as well as a simulation-based assessment using the Balance Act PhET.  We found that students who used their previously-learned  strategy on the transfer task were more likely to discover the multivariate relation of torque, as measured by performance on the Balance Act.  This research highlights the potential of PhET simulations not only as tools for inquiry instruction, but also as assessments of the inquiry process.
Presentation 3 Title: Can students learn from simulations at home, alone?
Presentation 3 Authors: Wendy Adams
Presentation 3 Abstract: Most previous work on student learning with PhET simulations focuses on classroom environments where students work in groups, with scaffolding from both worksheets and instructors.  By contrast, our study with high school students demonstrates that they can learn from simulations when working independently, both in class and at home, when using appropriately scaffolded worksheets. These results, triangulated with those of Ives et al. (see below), should spark discussion about when and how PhET simulations can support student learning.
Presentation 4 Title: Using PhET simulations as pre-lecture assignments to support knowledge consolidation
Presentation 4 Authors: Joss Ives, Georg Rieger, Nikki Yee, Hillgan Ma, Deborah Butler, and Ido Roll
Presentation 4 Abstract: The context for our study is a first-year Physics course. While the course takes place in Canada, all students are international, and this is their first year in an english-speaking institution. Students received a combination of pre-reading assignments and PhET activities to prepare them for learning on the topics of friction and torque. Students worked with the simulations once during the second week of the term and once towards its end. The given activities asked students to explore key concepts in the target domain and reflect on their exploration. Results show that students engaged with the simulations productively, even in a homework setting without instructor support. Furthermore, short interaction with the sim was sufficient to improve students' performance from pre- to post-test. Last, students' attitudes towards exploration remained remarkably stable form the first homework assignment to the second one, a couple of months later.
Presentation 5 Title: Framings of  PhET manipulations:  Investigating mechanism vs. confirming answers
Presentation 5 Authors: Vijay Kaul, Ayush Gupta, and Andrew Elby
Presentation 5 Abstract: Our tutorial for the Gas Properties PhET tried to engage students in repeated cycles of (i) making a prediction using the ideal gas law about what would happen to the pressure of a gas during a given process such as an isothermal compression, (ii) investigating the microscopic mechanism of the physical process using the PhET, and finally (iii) reconciling the mathematical and microscopic stories.  Sometimes, observed interactions among students and between students and the simulation environment mediated by the tutorial worksheet were about Investigating Mechanism, attending to the motion of the molecules, particularly collisions, to describe bulk pressure and temperature changes in the gas.  In other moments, however, when addressing step (ii), observed interactions were about Confirmation, checking that the pressure increased or decreased as they mathematically predicted in step (i) but not attending to the molecular story. Our poster explores these framings of PhET use, our instructional response, and implications for other groups designing PhET-based tutorials.