Confronting science misconceptions with the help of a computer.
A long standing aim of science educators is to help secondary school science
students to learn efficiently through various exploratory regimes. A further aim,
currently held by several leading science educators, is to promote learning by
confronting students with the inconsistencies entailed by their own beliefs. The
claim at the heart of the thesis is that well designed computer-based modelling
facilities can provide advantages over many approaches exploiting other media
and that such facilities can be used to promote the kinds of conflict that are
believed to be beneficial.
This claim is explored through an analysis of the role of modelling in science,
the nature of student's beliefs about physical phenomena that conflict with more
established beliefs and of how computer-based modelling environments can promote
learning through modelling. This requires consideration of a wide number
of issues relating to educational theory and practice, student learning, the design
of modelling environments and methodologies and techniques taken from
the field of Artificial Intelligence.
The methodology adopted required that a number of computer environments
be constructed and observations made of their usage by students. The environments
are used to focus attention on the various issues.
The results contained within this thesis include a short analysis of the educational
implications if the use of modelling environments were to be more widely
adopted, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these systems in terms
of how they promote student learning -particularly in relation to the nature of
the beliefs that students hold- and design criteria for how future systems might