Small group vs. whole class use of interactive computer simulations: Comparative case studies of matched high school physics classes
Stephens, A. Lynn
Vasu, Ileana
Clement, John, J.

Proceedings of the 2010 Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Philadelphia, PA.

Although it is generally felt that online simulations are better used in small groups working hands-on at computers, many teachers do not have ready access to the number of computer stations required. We ask whether teachers can engage students in effective, active learning when the students are not able to explore a simulation/animation on their own. Several teachers taught a number of high school physics topics in their classes using simulations in either of two conditions: a) small groups working hands-on at computers, and b) whole classes observing simulations projected from a single computer onto a screen before the class. We examine sets of matched classes to compare pre-post gains and teaching strategies used. The three teachers of the classes analyzed here anticipated that the small class format would work better, and students did appear at first glance to be more engaged in small groups. However, results showed that the whole class format produced similar—and in one comparison, significantly stronger—gains, as measured by pre-post tests. We use the pre-post results and videotape evidence to look at issues that may have affected student learning in the two kinds of situations.

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