The Role of Physical and Computer-Based Experiences in Learning Science Using a Complex Systems Approach

Abstract

How do different components of a learning environment contribute to learning in science? The study examines the contribution of laboratory experiments and computer model explorations to the learning of chemistry through a complex-systems approach. Specifically, junior high-school students’ learning of chemistry via four different methods were compared: with computer models using a complexity approach (MC); with laboratory experiments using a complexity approach (LC); with computer models and laboratory experiments using a complexity approach (MLC); and with a normative disciplinary approach that included only laboratory experiments (LN). Learning was tracked for the relevant science concepts, such as pressure, and for system component ideas, such as emergence. One hundred and fifty-nine seventh-grade students participated in a non-randomized four-group comparison quasi-experimental pre-test-intervention-post-test design with identical pre- and post-tests spaced 2–3 weeks apart. The learning activities for all modes were twelve 45-min lessons. Students’ scores rose in all four groups, but to a different extent, showing a distinct and strong advantage to combining models and labs (MLC), while no differences were seen between the MC and LC conditions. There was also an advantage to learning with the complexity approach (LC) compared to learning using the normative approach (LN). More importantly, the specific concepts that were learned show distinct patterns, distinguishing the contributions of each learning environment component. These research findings have both practical implications when designing learning environments and theoretical contributions to understanding the necessary role of different experiences in learning science.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Table 4 A comparison of the duration of activities in the four research group frequency, duration of activities, and approximately % of total time in the four learning environments

Appendix 2 “Who Understands Gases?”

Pre- and Post-test Content Knowledge Questionnaire

*Correct answers.

Question 1

A group of players want to play basketball, so they bring out a basketball that looks fine. But, when they try to bounce the ball, it does not bounce well (see Picture 1, below left). After pumping the ball with air it bounces very well (see Picture 2, below right).

Let us say that we could take a snapshot of the air particles inside the basketball, as the pictures above show. In the drawings on the next page we will represent these particles. The particles are represented as much larger than they are in reality. We assume that the size of the basketball does not change.

Which picture best shows the way air particles could be distributed in the basketball BEFORE it gets pumped up? (*B)

figurea

Question 2

Which picture best shows the way air particles could be distributed in the basketball AFTER it gets pumped up? (*C)

figureb

Question 3

When two gas particles collide (A)

  1. A.

    * Both their speed and direction will change.

  2. B.

    Their direction can change but not their speed.

  3. C.

    Their speed can change but not their direction.

  4. D.

    Neither their speed not direction will change.

Question 4

If you cool gas in a container, what will happen to its pressure? (A)

  1. A.

    *The pressure will go down.

  2. B.

    The pressure will stay the same.

  3. C.

    The pressure will go up.

  4. D.

    You cannot know.

Question 5

Let us say you increased the number of particles in a container with a constant volume. What will adding the particles do to the pressure? (C)

  1. A.

    The pressure will go down.

  2. B.

    The pressure will stay the same.

  3. C.

    * The pressure will go up.

  4. D.

    You cannot know.

Questions 6–7 apply to the following information. Read it and answer the questions.

A basketball is pumped with air. Let us assume that the size of the ball does not change and that the temperature is constant.

Question 6

What happened to the rate at which particles collided with the sides of the ball after inflating it? (A)

  1. A.

    *Increased

  2. B.

    Decreased

  3. C.

    Remained the same

Question 7

What happened to the air particles after the ball was inflated? (B)

  1. A.

    The air particles hit the ball at a greater rate and collided with each other at a smaller rate.

  2. B.

    * The air particles hit the ball at a greater rate and collided with each other at a greater rate.

  3. C.

    The air particles hit the ball at a smaller rate and collided with each other at a smaller rate.

  4. D.

    The air particles hit the ball at a smaller rate and collided with each other at a greater rate.

Question 9

Two balls have the same volume and are at the same temperature. The pressure in the first ball is greater than the pressure in the second ball. How are the number of air particles in each ball related to one another? (A)

  1. A.

    * The second ball has a greater number of air particles than the first ball.

  2. B.

    The second ball has Smaller number of air particles than the first ball.

  3. C.

    The two balls have the same number of air particles.

  4. D.

    You never know which ball has a greater number of air particles.

Question 10

Which of the following rules does NOT describe the behavior of air particles, according to the Kinetic Molecular Theory (KMT)? (D)

  1. A.

    Gas particles move in straight lines, until they collide with something.

  2. B.

    When gas particles hit the wall, they bounce away, with no change in speed.

  3. C.

    Gas particles are much smaller than the distance between them.

  4. D.

    * When two gas particles collide they react and form a new substance.

•Questions 11–14 apply to the following diagram and information, read it and answer the questions.

Imagine a box with a wall inside it as in the following picture. One side of the box [A] contains a gas. A window is then opened in the wall that separates the two parts of the box.

figurec

Question 11

Which statement best describes the gas particles’ motion? (A)

  1. A.

    * The gas particles in A are moving randomly about. If they happen to reach the window they go through it to B. Particles from B can go back to A.

  2. B.

    The gas particles in A are moving randomly about. If they happen to reach the window they go through it to B. Particles from B will not go back to A.

  3. C.

    The gas particles in A are moving randomly about. When the window opens, the particles head for the window to fill the empty side of the box, B. Particles from B can go back to A.

  4. D.

    The gas particles in A are moving randomly about. When the window opens, the particles head for the window to fill the empty side of the box, B. Particles from B will not go back to A.

Question 12

How would you describe the motion of a single particle? (B)

  1. A.

    A particle tends to move to the right more than it tends to move to the left.

  2. B.

    * A particle moves in a random direction, depending on the objects it collides with.

  3. C.

    The fastest particles rush to the right into the empty space that opened up.

  4. D.

    When an empty space opens, a vacuum is created that draws the particles.

Question 13

When a particle hits the wall of a container: (A)

  1. A.

    * The particle changes direction, but its speed remains the same.

  2. B.

    The particle changes direction and speed.

  3. C.

    The particle changes speed but not direction.

  4. D.

    The particle does not change its speed or direction.

Question 14

When two particles collide: (C)

  1. A.

    The particles change direction, but not speed

  2. B.

    The particles change speed, but not direction

  3. C.

    * The particles change direction and speed

  4. D.

    Nothing changes

Question15

How does the mass of a particle impact its speed when pressure and temperature are the same? (B)

  1. A.

    When the mass is larger, the particle is faster.

  2. B.

    * When the mass is smaller, the particle is faster.

  3. C.

    There is no connection between the mass and speed of a particle.

  4. D.

    None of the above.

The following diagram shows a piston in a sealed cylinder. In (b) the piston has been pushed in. No air entered or left the cylinder. Let us assume that no energy was added or removed and that the temperature is constant. Questions 16–20 refer to the following diagram.

figured

Question 16

The volume is (B)

  1. A.

    The same

  2. B.

    * Larger in (a)

  3. C.

    Larger in (b)

Question 17

The density of the air is (C)

  1. A.

    The same

  2. B.

    Larger in (a)

  3. C.

    * Larger in (b)

Question 18

The space between the particles is (B)

  1. A.

    The same

  2. B.

    *Larger in (a)

  3. C.

    Larger in (b)

Question 19

The average speed is (A)

  1. A.

    * The same

  2. B.

    Larger in (a)

  3. C.

    Larger in (b)

Question 20

Frequency of particle collisions is (C)

  1. A.

    The same

  2. B.

    Larger in (a)

  3. C.

    *Larger in (b)

Read the following section and answer the questions.

A girl sprayed some perfume on her neck. Her mother, who was standing at the other side of the room, called out: “What a good scent”!

Question 21

Describe in a drawing how the perfume particles reached from the girl’s neck to the mother’s nose on the other side of the room.

Use small circles to depict particles.

figuree

Question 22

Explain your drawing in detail. Describe in words how the perfume particles reached from one side of the room to the other. Explain how all the individual entities participate in the process.

Question 23.1

During the diffusion process, particles usually move:

A. From high concentration to low concentration of substance.

B. From low concentration to high concentration of substance.

Question 23.2

The reason for your answer is:

A. There are too many particles crowded in one area, so the particles move to an area where there is more space.

B. Particles that are in an area where their concentration is high, collide at a greater rate with other particles and as a result the particles disperse throughout the container.

C. The particles tend to move until they are evenly distributed. When they are evenly distributed, they stop moving.

D. Particles of the same material are attracted to each other.

Question 24

A drop of ink was put into a container with water. After several hours, the color of the water in the tank turned bright blue. At this point: (B)

  1. A.

    Ink particles stop moving.

  2. B.

    *Ink particles continued to move randomly in all directions.

  3. C.

    Ink particles began to sink to the bottom tank.

  4. D.

    Ink is fluid. If it were solid, the particles were stop moving.

Question 25.1

You are presented with two large glass cups, which are identical in shape and volume and contain the same amount of water at different temperatures (see the figure below). Into each cup, a drop of green ink was added. Eventually the water glasses were painted an even light green. Which glass became evenly painted first? (B)

figuref
  1. A.

    In Cup 1

  2. B.

    *In Cup 2

Question 25.2

The reason your answer is: (B)

  1. A.

    Low temperature stops the movement of the ink.

  2. B.

    * Ink particles moving faster at a higher temperature.

  3. C.

    Cold temperature accelerates the particle velocity.

  4. D.

    The high temperature causes the particles to expand.

Appendix 3

Table 5 Pre- and post-test content knowledge encoding according to conceptual knowledge and system components

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Samon, S., Levy, S.T. The Role of Physical and Computer-Based Experiences in Learning Science Using a Complex Systems Approach. Sci & Educ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-020-00184-w

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Keywords

  • Science education
  • Complex systems
  • Computer models
  • Multiple representations
  • Physical laboratories