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Using Student-Generated Animations about Water Boiling to Impact Student Understanding of the Particulate Nature of Matter

, North Carolina State University, United States

North Carolina State University . Awarded


This study is a mixed-methods analysis of 94 students in six Scientific Visualization (Sci Vis) classes of two instructors. The Sci Vis curriculum teaches students to use a variety of visualization tools (e.g. ArcView™, 3ds Max® and Flash™) to display different scientific concepts. Students in two of the classes (Sci Vis I) used CorelDRAW® to construct animations using .JPEG images supplied in a digital folder depicting different elements of water boiling (e.g. pot, steam, molecules). Students in the other four classes (Sci Vis II) used 3ds Max® to create original animations. Students were instructed to read the provided text and produce an animation of water boiling in enough detail that someone looking at the animation would be able to write the text.

The pre/posttest was developed by combining 12 questions from the Particulate Nature of Matter Assessment (Yezierski & Birk, 2006), 15 questions from the Smith et al. (2006) learning progression study, and 3 questions from state end-of-course exams. On Day 1, students were provided with the text and asked to begin their animations. On Day 2, students spent 30 minutes working through a Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE, Linn, Davis, & Bell, 2004) module, answering questions related to phases and phase change and looking at embedded animations. Students then returned to completing their own animations and asked to keep in mind the animations they had just watched as they finished their own. On Day 3, the Group 3 students met in small groups and discussed their animations. All student animations were graded using a rubric developed by Albert, Blanchard, and Wiebe (2012) based on key ideas on phase change in Stevens et al. (2010), for example ‘matter is made up of parts’.

Initial analyses of data indicated that of the 94 total participants in the study, only 35 students had non-zero scores on all assessments. Therefore, these 35 students were selected for analysis and students who did not participate fully were removed. Analyses included repeated measures ANOVA on the pre/posttest, scoring of student animation projects and WISE module question responses according to developed rubrics, and constant comparative coding of informal student interview data. Although there were no statistically significant gains by any of the three groups on the pre/posttest, there was a statistically significant correlation between scores on the pretest and posttest and the total project score. In their animations, students included many of the key elements from the provided text, as suggested by Van Meter and Garner (2005), and in the Stevens et al. (2010) learning progression. Unlike the Van Meter and Garner findings, few students saw a relationship between their animation and those they viewed in the WISE module. Findings indicate that the creation of animations seemed to affect students’ understanding of motion and of the composition of atoms and molecules. This indicates that, for students who engaged cognitively with the activity that employed tenets of Van Meter and Garner’s GTDC, creation of digital animations enhanced conceptual learning.

Findings indicate that it is possible to replicate Van Meter and Garner’s GTDC in a digital environment. Students were able to integrate elements into their own animations from their mental models, the provided text, and the viewed animations. Interestingly, the appearance of students’ animations differed greatly, demonstrating a surprising degree of student creativity. In this study, animations were nominally useful in reducing students’ misconceptions related to motion and atomic/molecular composition, corroborating findings from other studies (e.g. Wu & Shah, 2004). However, this was found only in the classes in which students created original animations, not in the classes in which students constructed animations with supplied images. The limited increases in gains scores suggest that all steps – reading the text, beginning the animations, answering questions, and comparing their animations to provided models – are needed in order to have meaningful learning gains when students create digital animations. The modest learning gains by students also suggest that students may need more teacher scaffolding in order to maximize results. Further, students’ creativity seems to have been sparked by the creation of computer animations and many students showed gains in conceptual understanding, as evidenced in their interviews. This implies that the use of digital animation creation may be a way to increase student interest in chemistry. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)


Albert, J.L. Using Student-Generated Animations about Water Boiling to Impact Student Understanding of the Particulate Nature of Matter. Ph.D. thesis, North Carolina State University. Retrieved July 23, 2021 from .

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