Understanding Teacher Learning Communities as Support for Implementation of Computer Simulations for Physics Conceptual Instruction

Project Number
OER 10/15 GWF

Project Duration
July 2015 - December 2017


Science instruction is increasingly drawing on virtual and interactive technologies to help students visualize core scientific concepts (McElhaney & Linn, 2011; Wu & Huang, 2007), and then to propose, consider, and test competing models to explain the concepts and related phenomena (Schwarz et al., 2009). Physics is certainly no exception. Visualization plays a major role in the advancement of the subject (Kozhevnikov, Motes, & Hegarty, 2007; Lyna, 2008), and model-focused instruction has been increasingly emphasized (Fulmer & Liang, 2013; Liang et al, 2012). While a growing number of simulations have been developed, there is yet insufficient understanding of how teachers can incorporate simulations into classroom instruction, and how this impacts students' growing understanding of the topic. In this study, we adapt simulations for topics within the Singapore secondary physics syllabi, and then conduct a progressive sequence of mini-studies (tied to the subject topics) with Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs). This will allow us to understand how the teachers make sense of simulations and key issues for further integration into instruction. The computer simulations that will be used in this study are based on Physlet?, an interactive Java simulation software customizable to the instructional goals by including one or more variables involved in a system or a scientific phenomenon learned. It allows the students to manipulate the variables to see the effects on the system. Such feature helps the students identify relations among components of a system and enables them to visualize and correctly make conceptual connections between representations (Wu & Shah, 2004). In this study, Physlet will be modified based on Singapore physics syllabi. Building on the work from a completed Senior Specialist Track Research Fund (SSTRF) one-year project (Wee, 2014), this proposed study aims to foster students' deep learning of physics concepts through collaborative model-based guided inquiry. The students will collaboratively create and use models to predict and explain phenomena and then compare those models with those from canonical science (Schwarz & Gwekwerere, 2007). TLCs will be structured around teachers' common interests and problems as manifested in joint activities (Muijs, West, & Ainscow, 2010). TLCs will be used as a platform for participating physics teachers to collaborate within and across schools in cross-fertilizing ideas, providing insights, sharing resources, and solving problems throughout the study. The teachers will meet monthly, besides online interactions and discussions. We will used a mixed-method study (with observations, interviews, artefacts, and questionnaires) of students and teachers. We will examine how teachers' professional learning occurs in the TLCs by analyzing teachers' interactions within and across schools. A variety of teacher and student data sources to understand the nature of the classroom instruction will also be collected and analyzed. At the teacher level, this will include qualitative data such as discussions, meeting notes, and classroom observations. Our proposed study has potential to: 1. Provide in-depth understanding of students' learning of physics concepts through collaborative model-based guided inquiry. 2. Suggest pedagogical strategies that emphasize collaborative model-based guided inquiry and its implications for assessments and curriculum design. 3. Generate data to help uncover the conditions for nurturing robust connections between schools that other emerging TLCs can draw upon.

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