Grafting computer projected simulations and interactive engagement methods within a traditional classroom setting: The influence on secondary level students' understanding of Newtonian mechanics and on attitudes towards physics
This research explored the effects of a constructivist approach using computer projected simulations (CPS) and interactive engagement (IE) methods on 12th grade school students. The treatment lasted 18 weeks during the 1999-2000 fall semester and seeked to evaluate three variations in students': (1) conceptual understanding of Newtonian mechanics as measured by the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), (2) modification of their views about science as measured by the Views About Science Survey (VASS), and (3) achievement on traditional examinations, as measured by their end of semester grades. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was applied to determine the differences between the mean scores of the experimental group students, and students of the control group, who were exposed to traditional teaching methods only. The FCI data analysis showed that, after 18 weeks, conceptual understanding of Newtonian mechanics had markedly improved only in the experimental group (F (1,99) = 44.739, p < .001). By contrast, there was no statistically significant difference in students' performance on the VASS instrument for both groups (F (1,99) = .033, p = .856), confirming previous and comparable findings for studies of short implementation period. The lack of statistically significant difference between the control and experimental groups in graded achievement, while controlling for students' previous achievement, was unexpected (F (1,99) = 1.178, p = .280). It is suggested that in this particular setting, the influence of a technical factor may have been overlooked: the monitored and systematic drill exercises using elaborate math formulae to prepare students for traditional math-loaded exams. Still, despite being intentionally deprived of such preparation throughout the study, students of the experimental group did not achieve less than their counterpart, and in addition, they had gained a satisfactory understanding of Newtonian mechanics. This result points unmistakably at a plausible positive correlation between a better grasp of basic concepts in physics in a challenging and active engagement environment, and unproblematic achievement in traditional exams. Despite the modest sample size of the studied groups, students here, as elsewhere in the world, show a manifest readiness and capacity to master proper understanding of Newtonian mechanics when induced by the IE methods in a constructivist, semi-Socratic, environment.