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Promoting a Qualitative Understanding of Physics

, The University of Houston-Clear Lake, United States ; , The University of Iowa, United States

JCMST Volume 18, Number 4, ISSN 0731-9258 Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC USA


This study investigated the effects of two instructional strategies (augmented activation activities versus expository instruction) and three different presentation formats Microcomputer-based Laboratory (MBL), simulation, and computer-based text) on individuals' ability to understand concepts in physics. Three hundred and thirty subjects were assigned to one of six treatment groups defined by the crossing of instructional strategy and presentation format. A 2 X 3 factorial design was used to analyze the data. Analysis of variance indicated a significant main effect for presentation format. Follow-up tests further indicated that both the MBL and the simulation presentation formats were more effective than computer-based text and that simulations were equally as effective as MBL's. These findings confirmed the results of previous research by providing strong support for the use of MBL's and simulations and extend the results of previous research by indicating that simulations are just as effective as MBL's. This latter finding has many positive implications for educators given that computer-based simulations are generally easier to implement in a classroom setting. [Note: This research is based upon the dissertation of the first author.] Motivated by the prospect of a shortfall in technically trained professionals and the low level of general science literacy, many researchers have dedicated their efforts to understanding students difficulties in learning math and science. One of the most persistent findings of the research on learning science is that it is not so much what students don't know as what they do know that impedes their ability to understand science (Tobias, 1988). Long before students begin learning science in school, they have developed models of the universe that, because they are so firmly entrenched in an individual's worldview, are extremely resistant to formal instruction (Tobias, 1988). Students are very unwilling to relinquish their intuitively appealing but erroneous conceptualizations of phenomena in favor of "school" science which is presented in a very abstract and therefore incomprehensible manner (White, 1992). Thus, students must overcome two barriers in their efforts to learn science, their own misconceptions and the abstract manner in which science is presented in most textbooks.


Peña, C.M. & Alessi, S.M. (1999). Promoting a Qualitative Understanding of Physics. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 18(4), 439-457. Charlottesville, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved December 11, 2019 from .



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