ERIC Identifier: ED309050
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Helgeson, Stanley L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Microcomputers in the Science Classroom. ERIC/SMEAC Science
Education Digest No. 3, 1988.
This digest presents a brief description of some selection of information
representative of recent activities.
USES OF MICROCOMPUTERS
In considering current and potential
uses of microcomputers, Tamir (1985/86) examines three modes of microcomputer
applications: tutorial, tool, and tutee. In the tutorial mode, drill and
practice is the most common use, although the tutorial function may also appear
in the form of remedial programs. Tamir also includes testing as a part of the
tutorial function because it is such an integral part of the science curriculum.
Homework tasks similar to those described under remediation and testing
represent another form of tutorial use if the homework is systematically
evaluated and feedback provided (Tamir, 1985/86).
The microcomputer as a tool can serve many management, administrative, and
instructional functions. In calculations and statistical analysis, an important
function of microcomputers is in performing time-consuming or complex
calculations, especially in those cases involving relationships of two or more
variables over time. Microcomputers can also be used to perform standard
statistical analyses such as frequency distributions, t-tests, Chi squares,
regressions, analyses of variance and the like (Tamir 1985/86). Word processing
is another important tool function of the microcomputer that represents a major
time savings to both students and teacher. Not only can science reports be
produced in less time, but reports generated with a word processor have been
found to be better written as rated by independent raters in five categories:
spelling and punctuation, organization and design, sentence structure, clarity,
and overall quality (O'Brien and Pizzini, 1986). Drawing and graphics display
capabilities involving the microcomputer as a sophisticated visual aid
incorporating color, animation, and sound still need much exploration. The
potential for combining such graphic cues with other forms of instruction would
seem to be promising.
Data accumulation and processing represent still other tool functions. The
microcomputer can be used to collect, analyze and display data in the form of
graphs and charts, showing relationships that change as the values of the
variables change. The interactive capability of the microcomputer makes possible
problem solving and decision making applications. In some programs students
identify variables, define hypotheses, determine methods of measurement,
treatments, procedures, and proposed techniques of data analyses. Data drawn
from research can be stored in the computer's memory so that students can
process and examine the data, test predictions, and draw conclusions.
Simulations and games can allow the students to examine models and relationships
of the real world under controlled conditions, to study variables which might
otherwise be inaccessible. This capability of the microcomputer to provide
models of scientific phenomena or systems has significant potential for science
teaching (Tamir, 1985/86).
The microcomputer as tutee is different in both kind and emphasis from the
tutorial and tool functions. In the latter cases, the student uses the
microcomputer as an aid to learning, with communication in the student's
language. In the tutee function, the student "teaches" the microcomputer, using
the computer's language. Perhaps a more important difference is in the nature of
the task. In the tutorial and tool modes, the student is attempting to learn by
using existing programs. In the tutee mode, the student attempts to clarify a
problem in order to communicate it effectively to the computer. To be
successful, then, requires that the student come to understand the problem that
is to be "taught" to the computer. Much more work is needed on the effect and
potential of this mode (Tamir 1985/86).
EFFECTIVENESS OF MICROCOMPUTERS
Some examples of recent
research on the effectiveness of the microcomputer in the science classroom will
be briefly summarized. The effects of alternative ways of using microcomputer
simulations on the achievement and attitudes of sixth- and seventh-grade science
students were studied by Shaw and Okey (1985). Nine classes were randomly
assigned to one of four treatments: (1) microcomputer simulations, (2)
laboratory activities, (3) a combination of simulations and laboratory
activities (simulations presented first), and (4) conventional instruction.
Topics covered during lessons included the process skills of observing,
hypothesizing, testing, classifying, and recording data. Results showed that
laboratory activities, simulations, and a combination of these two strategies
yielded higher achievement than did conventional instruction; there were no
significant differences in achievement among the non-conventional treatment
groups; and there was no attitude differences among the four groups. It was also
found that students at middle and high levels of logical reasoning outachieved
students at the low level of logical reasoning ability.
Hands-on activities and computer simulation methods in chemistry were
examined by Bourque and Carlson (1987) to compare the cognitive effectiveness of
a traditional hands-on laboratory exercise with a computer-simulated program on
the same topic, and to determine if coupling these formats into a specific
sequence would provide optimum student comprehension. Three laboratory
experiments (acid-base titration, determination of the equilibration constant of
a weak acid, and determination of Avogadro's number) were designed to correspond
to three computer simulations. The data indicated that the hands-on activities
produced higher scores for the acid-base titration and for the ionization
constant, and no significant difference for the determination of Avogadro's
number. The results further showed, however, that the highest cumulative scores
were achieved for the format of hands-on experience followed by the computer
simulation for the first two experiments, but there was no apparent advantage in
sequence of performance for the derivation of Avogadro's number.
Mokros and Tinker (1987) reported on the impact of microcomputer-based labs
(MBL) on children's ability to interpret graphs. In a longitudinal study,
seventh- and eight-grade students worked with MBL units on illusions, heat and
temperature, sound, and motion for a minimum of 20 class sessions. The data
indicated that there was a significant change in students' ability to interpret
and use graphs (an effect size of 81 percent). Brasell (1987) studied the effect
of a very brief MBL treatment with a kinematics unit on high school physics
students' ability to translate between a physical event and the graphic
representation of it, and the effect of real-time graphing as opposed to delayed
graphing of data. Overall posttest scores form the treatment in which the graphs
were displayed in real-time were significantly higher than scores from all other
treatment groups. The evidence showed that a single class period was sufficient
for high school physics students to improve their comprehension of distance and
velocity graphs when compared with a paper-and-pencil control treatment. Most of
the improvement (90 percent) was attributable to real-time graphing. A delay of
only 20-30 seconds in displaying the graphed data inhibited nearly all the
Computer simulations used by high school biology students in attempts to
enhance their problem solving skills were studied by Rivers and Vockell (1987).
The simulations were administered under two conditions: guided discovery, and
unguided discovery; a control group received no simulations. The results
indicated that: (a) students using the simulations met the unit objectives at
least as well as the control students, and (b) the students using the guided
simulations surpassed the other students on subsequent simulation pretests, on
tests of scientific thinking, and on a test of critical thinking. The evidence
suggested that students using the computerized simulations were developing
generalizable problem solving strategies which transferred to novel settings.
The microcomputer clearly has many possible
applications in the science classroom. It is equally clear that we have just
begun to tap the potential of the microcomputer in education. Recognizing the
tentative nature of the research findings in the field, some implications for
science instruction emerge. It appears that microcomputer simulations are at
least as effective as hands-on experiences for some cognitive outcomes and may
in fact enhance these outcomes when the simulations are sequenced to follow
hand-on instruction. Skills such as graphing appear to be positively influenced
by microcomputer-based experiences, although the apparently critical nature of a
delay between the input of data and its corresponding graphic display should be
noted. While sex differences in achievement may not have been eliminated by the
use of the microcomputer, instances of equal performance have been noted; this
bears further investigation. In the affective domain, both student attitudes and
interest seem to be positive regarding the use of microcomputers in science
instruction. There are many encouraging indicators but much remains to be
Bourque, Donald R. and Gaylen R.
Carlson. "Hands-On Versus Computer Simulation Methods in Chemistry. "JOURNAL OF
CHEMICAL EDUCATION, 64(3): 232-234, March, 1987.
Brasell, Heather. "The Effect of Real-Time Laboratory Graphing on Learning
Graphic Representations of Distance and Velocity." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN
SCIENCE TEACHING, 24(4): 385-395, April, 1987.
Mokros, Janice R. and Robert F. Tinker. "The Impact of Microcomputer-Based
Labs on Children's Ability to Interpret Graphs." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE
TEACHING, 24(4): 369-383, April, 1987.
O'Brien, George E. and Edward L. Pizzini. "Righting Research Writing With a
Word Processor." THE SCIENCE TEACHER, 53(3): 26-28, 1986.
Rivers, Robert H. and Edward Vockell. "Computer Simulations to Stimulate
Scientific Problem Solving." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING, 24(5):
403-415, May, 1987.
Shaw, Edward L., Jr., and James R. Okey. "Effects of Microcomputer
Simulations on Achievement and Attitudes of Middle School Students. Paper
presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in
Science Teaching, French Lick Springs, IN, April 15-18, 1985. ED 255 389.
Tamir, Pinchas. "Current and Potential Uses of Microcomputers in Science
Education." JOURNAL OF COMPUTERS IN MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE TEACHING,
V(2):18-28, Winter, 1985/86.