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home · events · thesis defenses · 2002-2003 · 

Thesis Defense - Cherry

ECOT 831

Effects of modeling software on fifth grade students' construction of computer-based models: A classroom study comparing two software designs
Gina Cherry
Computer Science PhD Candidate

One promising approach to supporting science learning focuses on the creation and use of computer-based models that represent how and why things work. Activities with models and simulations have the potential to help children organize, develop, test, and refine their ideas about science, enabling robust understanding of science concepts. In this study, I explore the ways in which the design of modeling software affects the cognitive, social, and design processes in which students engage when creating models. I address these issues in the context of a modeling environment called EcoWorlds, which allows learners to create models of imaginary animals and ecosystems.

My analysis focuses on a specific design task that is part of the modeling process. I compare two versions of the EcoWorlds software that differ in several respects: the role of the software in introducing background knowledge; the types of constraints the software imposes on student expression; and the ways in which the software guides students to think scientifically. I look at the effects of these software design decisions on two aspects of the learning environment that reflect opportunities for learning: the types of conversations students have while engaged in the activity, and students' ability to express their ideas about animals in the software. I also consider the way in which these design decisions affect the ability of teachers to incorporate model-building activities in typical elementary school classrooms. The results suggest that the version of the software that provides students with background knowledge about the domain creates more opportunities for learning than does the more open-ended version of the software.

Committee: Clayton Lewis, Professor (Chair)
Alexander Repenning, Research Assistant Professor
Michael Main, Associate Professor
Andee Rubin, TERC
Steven Guberman, School of Education

See also:
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
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