Making the invisible visible: Enhancing students' conceptual understanding by introducing representations of abstract objects in a simulation

Georgios Olympiou, Zacharia Zacharia, Ton de Jong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This study aimed to identify if complementing representations of concrete objects with representations of abstract objects improves students’ conceptual understanding as they use a simulation to experiment in the domain of Light and Color. Moreover, we investigated whether students’ prior knowledge is a factor that must be considered in deciding when to use representations of abstract objects. A pre-post comparison study design was used, involving 69 participants assigned to two conditions. The first condition consisted of 36 students who had access to a simulation with representations of concrete objects, whereas the second condition consisted of 33 students who had access to a simulation with representations of both concrete and abstract objects. Both conditions used the same inquiry-oriented curriculum materials, consisting of three sections that included physical phenomena with increasingly complex underlying mechanisms, so that the third section’s mechanisms were more complex in nature than those in the first two sections. Tests were administered to assess students’ conceptual understanding before and after the presentation of the curricular material as a whole, as well as before and after each of its three sections. Results revealed that the presence of representations of abstract objects was helpful for the first two sections, but only for students with low prior knowledge. On the third, most complex section, also the students with higher prior knowledge profited from the presence of abstract objects. From these findings, we conjecture that for physical phenomena with a lower level of complexity, students with high prior knowledge are able to mentally construct the necessary abstract concepts on their own, whereas for higher levels of complexity they need an explicit representation of the abstract objects in the learning environment
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-596
Number of pages22
JournalInstructional science
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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Students
simulation
student
Physical Phenomena
knowledge
Curriculum
learning environment
Color
Learning
Light
curriculum
experiment

Keywords

  • Concrete representations
  • Abstract representations
  • Simulations
  • Inquiry-based experimentation
  • Conceptual understanding

Cite this

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abstract = "This study aimed to identify if complementing representations of concrete objects with representations of abstract objects improves students’ conceptual understanding as they use a simulation to experiment in the domain of Light and Color. Moreover, we investigated whether students’ prior knowledge is a factor that must be considered in deciding when to use representations of abstract objects. A pre-post comparison study design was used, involving 69 participants assigned to two conditions. The first condition consisted of 36 students who had access to a simulation with representations of concrete objects, whereas the second condition consisted of 33 students who had access to a simulation with representations of both concrete and abstract objects. Both conditions used the same inquiry-oriented curriculum materials, consisting of three sections that included physical phenomena with increasingly complex underlying mechanisms, so that the third section’s mechanisms were more complex in nature than those in the first two sections. Tests were administered to assess students’ conceptual understanding before and after the presentation of the curricular material as a whole, as well as before and after each of its three sections. Results revealed that the presence of representations of abstract objects was helpful for the first two sections, but only for students with low prior knowledge. On the third, most complex section, also the students with higher prior knowledge profited from the presence of abstract objects. From these findings, we conjecture that for physical phenomena with a lower level of complexity, students with high prior knowledge are able to mentally construct the necessary abstract concepts on their own, whereas for higher levels of complexity they need an explicit representation of the abstract objects in the learning environment",
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Making the invisible visible : Enhancing students' conceptual understanding by introducing representations of abstract objects in a simulation. / Olympiou, Georgios; Zacharia, Zacharia; de Jong, Ton.

In: Instructional science, Vol. 41, No. 3, 2013, p. 575-596.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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