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Factors Promoting Engaged Exploration with Computer Simulations

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PRSTPER Volume 6, Number 2, ISSN 1554-9178


This paper extends prior research on student use of computer simulations (sims) to engage with and explore science topics, in this case wave interference. We describe engaged exploration; a process that involves students actively interacting with educational materials, sense making, and exploring primarily via their own questioning. We analyze interviews with college students using PhET sims in order to demonstrate engaged exploration, and to identify factors that can promote this type of inquiry. With minimal explicit guidance, students explore the topic of wave interference in ways that bear similarity to how scientists explore phenomena. PhET sims are flexible tools which allow students to choose their own learning path, but also provide constraints such that students' choices are generally productive. This type of inquiry is supported by sim features such as concrete connections to the real world, representations that are not available in the real world, analogies to help students make meaning of and connect across multiple representations and phenomena, and a high level of interactivity with real-time, dynamic feedback from the sim. These features of PhET sims enable students to pose questions and answer them in ways that may not be supported by more traditional educational materials. (Contains 5 figures.)


Podolefsky, N.S., Perkins, K.K. & Adams, W.K. (2010). Factors Promoting Engaged Exploration with Computer Simulations. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 6(2), 20117. Retrieved April 26, 2019 from .

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Cited By

  1. Effect of Interacting with Simulation and Modeling with Spreadsheet on High School Students’ Ability to Solve Problems in Projectile motion

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    E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2014 (Oct 27, 2014) pp. 498–504

  2. Creating Effective Interactive Tools for Learning: Insights from the PhET Interactive Simulations Project

    Katherine Perkins, Noah Podolefsky, Kelly Lancaster & Emily Moore, University of Colorado Boulder, United States

    EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2012 (Jun 26, 2012) pp. 436–441

  3. Inquiry-based Lessons and PhET Simulations - A great match for Middle School Classrooms

    Elyse Zimmer, UTeach Outreach, United States

    Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012 (Mar 05, 2012) pp. 2652–2654

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