A potential impact of computer technology on students' alternative conceptions and explanatory style

Ralph E Swan, University of Pennsylvania


The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact a computer simulation may have on the process of altering learners' conceptions and explanatory styles in a specific science learning situation. For the investigation of the conceptualization process, it is assumed that children come to understand science through a process in which they question and modify their own alternative conceptions. Further, since science frequently depends on conceptions that cannot be derived from direct observation, successful teaching strategies frequently utilize activities and tools that facilitate constructions of conceptions that are more abstract than those previously relied upon by students prior to their school experience. A computer simulation may provide a unique learning tool for this purpose by bridging a gap between abstract conception and direct experience in situations where laboratory reconstructions are not possible or feasible. For the investigation of explanatory style, it is assumed that students who tend to attribute success and failure in learning to themselves also tend to be interested in learning. Students who are inclined to see themselves as responsible for their own success or failure have an optimistic explanatory style. Students inclined to see external factors as responsible have a helpless explanatory style. Conceptualization, specifically, conceptualization of friction and gravity, is assessed by a variation of the Interview-about-Instances technique. Explanatory style is measured by Crandall's Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Scale and the Intellectual Achievement Responsibility Scale for Conceptualization of Friction and Gravity. The study targets fifth and sixth grade students in a suburban setting. Quantitative Analysis indicates that the effective utilization of the software Sir Isaac Newton's Games improves student conceptualization of friction and gravity, and prevents drops toward a less optimistic explanatory style. Also shown is a tendency for students with more accurate conceptions of friction and gravity to have a more optimistic explanatory style. Qualitative analysis supports previous alternative conceptions research, and also suggests that some students may change conceptions greatly in a relatively short period of time.

Subject Area

Science education|Curricula|Teaching|Educational software

Recommended Citation

Swan, Ralph E, "A potential impact of computer technology on students' alternative conceptions and explanatory style" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9800931.