Hands on small-group vs. whole-class use of animations and simulations: Comparative case studies in projectile motion
Stephens, A. Lynn

Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Orlando, FL

Years one and two of a three-year study revealed that, contrary to their teachers' expectations, students working hands on with computer animations and simulations in small groups with a teacher circulating among the groups performed no better, as measured by pre-post gains, than students engaging in teacher-moderated whole class discussions while observing the animations and simulations projected onto a screen before the class. Similar results have been obtained in year three. Initial case study analyses suggested there might exist teaching strategies for promoting at least some of the active thinking and exploration that has been considered to be the strength of small group work. The present study analyzes transcripts from a Projectile Motion lesson sequence taught during years two and three. Pre-post results are presented. Comparative case study analyses of matched sets of classes look closely at features of whole class and small group discussions that accompanied use of Quicktime animations, coding for presence of several factors that appeared to be associated with active reasoning in the initial case studies. One finding was the presence in whole class discussion of many more episodes of support for interpreting the meaning of visual elements in the animations than was present in the small groups. The Whole Class case studies examined here suggest the possibility that there may be certain instructional situations where there is an advantage to spending at least part of the time with the simulation or animation in a whole class discussion mode.

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