Enhancing and Evaluating Students’ Learning of Motion Concepts

  • Ronald K. Thornton
Conference paper
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (volume 86)


Microcomputer-based laboratory (MBL) tools have been developed as an aid to all students, including the underprepared and underserved, in learning physical concepts. To guide this development, extensive work has been done to find useful measures of students’ conceptual understanding that can be used in widely varying contexts. This article describes student learning of motion concepts by high school and college students in both traditional and MBL contexts. Students use MBL tools to collect physical data that are graphed in real time and then can be manipulated and analyzed. The MBL tools have made possible discovery-based laboratory curricula that embody results from educational research, allowing students to take an active role in their learning and encouraging them to construct physical knowledge from observation of the physical world. The curricula take advantage of the fact that MBL tools present data in an immediately understandable graphical form. They also encourage collaborative learning. The effectiveness of these methods compared to traditional high school and university methods for helping students learn basic motion concepts has been evaluated by pre- and post-testing and by observation. There is strong evidence for significantly improved learning and retention by students who used the MBL materials, compared to those taught in a traditional manner.


Motion Detector Short Answer Question Motion Concept Velocity Graph Dickinson College 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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    This work was suppoi in part by the Fund for Improvement of Post-secondary Education (FIPSE) of the U.S. Department of Education under the “Tools for Scientific Thinking” project and “Interactive Physics” at Tufts University, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Education, the Board of Regents of Massachusetts, and Apple Computer, Inc.Google Scholar
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    The HRM Motion, Heat and Temperature and Sound microcomputer-based laboratory tools are available from Queue, Inc., 338 Commerce Drive, Fairfield, CT 06430.Google Scholar
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    For more information write to Ronald Thornton, Center for Science and Mathematics Teaching, Lincoln- Filene Building, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155 and Prof. Priscilla Laws, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA 17013. These materials are available through Vernier Software, 2920 S.W. 89th Street, Portland, OR 97225.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald K. Thornton
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Science and Mathematics TeachingTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

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