Parnafes - JLS 2007

What Does "Fast" Mean? Understanding the Physical World Through Computational Representations
Orit Parnafes
School of Education, Tel-Aviv University

This article concerns the development of conceptual understanding of a physical phenomenon through the use of computational representations. It examines how students make sense of and interpret computational representations, and how their understanding of the represented physical phenomenon develops in this process. Eight studies were conducted, in which pairs of students were engaged in an exploratory activity of natural harmonic oscillation. They first explored physical oscillators (e.g., springs, pendulums) and then interacted with dynamic and interactive computational representations that represent aspects of natural harmonic oscillation. The analysis focuses on selected episodes demonstrating critical steps in the development of the students' understanding. It offers a detailed description of these steps and closely examines students' interaction with various features of the representations in order to identify the relations between use of representations and students' developing understanding. A theory of conceptual change, coordination class theory (diSessa & Sherin, 1998), is used to track the development process of students' understanding with representations. The detailed analysis aims to construct a model describing mechanisms of developing understanding through the mediation of computational representations. The significance of this study is in its close look at the detailed process of learning and conceptual change in computational environments.