Conceptually enhanced simulations: A computer tool for science teaching

Joseph Snir, Carol Smith, Lorraine Grosslight

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In this paper, we consider a way computer simulations can be used to address the problem of teaching for conceptual change and understanding. After identifying three levels of understanding of a natural phenomenon (concrete, conceptual, and metaconceptual) that need to be addressed in school science, and classifying computer model systems and simulations more generally in terms of the design choices facing the programmer, we argue that there are ways to design computer simulations that can make them more powerful than laboratory models. In particular, computer simulations that provide an explicit representation for a set of interrelated concepts allow students to perceive what cannot be directly observed in laboratory experiments: representations for the concepts and ideas used for interpreting the experiment. Further, by embedding the relevant physical laws directly into the program code, these simulations allow for genuine discoveries. We describe how we applied these ideas in developing a computer simulation for a particular set of purposes: to help students grasp the distinction between mass and density and to understand the phenomenon of flotation in terms of these concepts. Finally, we reflect on the kinds of activities such conceptually enhanced simulations allow that may be important in bringing about the desired conceptual change.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)373-388
    Number of pages16
    JournalJournal of Science Education and Technology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 1993


    • Simulations
    • computers
    • conceptual change
    • density
    • flotation
    • science education

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Engineering (all)


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