Creating, Showing, and Testing Ideas Using Computer Simulation and Modeling
Simulation and analysis are a major part of how scientists and engineers think about, talk about, and test their ideas. How can future scientists and engineers learn this important piece of scientific practice?
The SiMSAM project is a design-based research project where we try to answer that question. One reason we are designing SiMSAM is to use as a research tool that can make new kinds of student thinking available for us to study. We are interested in how, using SiMSAM, students learn to translate their everyday verbal and visual explanations of scientific phenomena into the more formal language of computer simulations and mathematical models. Specifically, we are exploring the questions:
- How do middle school students learn to adopt simulation and data analysis technologies as tools of scientific discourse?
- How can educators and learning environments better support such adoption?
Prior research has shown that different technologies (such as stop action motion animation, visually-based simulation environments, and “hotlinked” mathematics environments) have made different pieces of this translation process more accessible to students. We are integrating these prior findings into one environment that we hope will allow learners to explore a continuum from expressing their understandings in an open-ended way to expressing them using the formal languages of science and mathematics.
Kinetic Molecular Theory
As we first develop SiMSAM, we will study how students use it to answer questions related to kinetic molecular theory (KMT): the idea that gases are made of small particles that move and collide with one another. Kinetic molecular theory explains things like how sound and smell can spread through a room, and why air in a closed container feels “squishy”. KMT is an important and difficult idea in the middle school science curriculum, and research is still exploring how young people make sense of it. By focusing specifically on KMT, students’ creations using SiMSAM might also help us better understand:
- How do middle school students make sense of specific events (such as sound spread, or properties of air) related to kinetic molecular theory?
- What might help students recognize that the same explanation can be used for different scientific events?
Some Selected Inspirational Work
Cobb, P., Confrey, J., diSessa, A., Lehrer, R. & Schauble, L. (2003). Design Experiments in Educational Research. Educational Researcher, 32(1) 9-13.
SAM Animation: Stop Action Movies, www.samanimation.com
Lehrer, R. & Schauble, L. (2009). Designing to develop disciplinary dispositions: Modeling natural systems. American Psychologist, 64(8) 759-771.
DiSessa, A. (2004). Metarepresentation: Naive competence and targets for instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 22(3), 293-331.
Wilensky, U. & Reisman, K. (2006). Thinking like a wolf, sheep, or a firefly: Learning biology through constructing and testing computational theories-an embodied modeling approach. Cognition and Instruction, 24(2), 171-209.
MoDeLS: The Modeling Designs for Learning Science Project
Schwarz, C.V., Reiser, B.J., Davis, E.A., Kenyon, L., Acher, A., Fortus, D., Shwartz, Y, Hug, B., & Krajcik, J. (2009). Developing a learning progression for scientific modeling: Making scientific modeling accessible and meaningful for learners. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 46, 632–654.
How can middle schoolers translate their ideas into the kind of models used in STEM?