UW–Madison’s Sadhana Puntambekar is the lead author on a paper that was recognized by the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) as one of its Research Worth Reading awards.
The paper being recognized is titled, “Supporting middle school students’ science talk: A comparison of physical and virtual labs.” This award is given to three papers published in JRST in the past year deemed to have the most significant impact for science educators and practitioners.
“Our study provides new insights into how students learn from physical and virtual experiments using simulations, particularly students’ reasoning during these experiments,” says Puntambekar, a Sears-Bascom Professor of Educational Psychology with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology. “Our findings are especially relevant because of the wide use of simulations in science classes, and will provide educators with guidance on how the two types of experiments affect students’ learning.”
In addition to Puntambekar, the paper is also co-authored by UW-Madison’s Dana Gnesdilow, a research associate with the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The report was also written by: Catherine Dornfeld Tissenbaum with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign; N. Hari Narayanan, with the Department of Computer Science & Software Engineering at Auburn University; and N. Sanjay Rebello, with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University.
This paper was ecognized during the awards session at the NARST 95th Annual International Conference, which ran March 27-30 in Vancouver. NARST is a worldwide organization of professionals committed to the improvement of science teaching and learning through research.
The paper focused on understanding how students reason during physical and virtual labs, especially because physical and virtual labs offer different opportunities for interaction, because of their specific affordances.
The researchers used audio data to examine 115 sixth-grade students in the classes of three science teachers. The researchers then studied discussions as the students worked in both physical and virtual labs to better understand how they learned from each — and the kinds of learning that each type of lab supported.
The study found that “students conducting physical labs engaged in a significantly higher proportion of talk related to setting up apparatus and taking measurements and calculating outputs. Students who performed virtual labs, on the other hand, engaged in significantly more discussions about making predictions and understanding patterns of relationships between variables, and interpreting science phenomena. While students in the virtual condition engaged in discussions that were more focused on the relationships between science ideas, students in the physical condition learned science practices related to planning and carrying out investigations that are equally valuable.”
The authors propose that their “findings suggest that learning from one experimental modality may complement and supplement the relative weaknesses of the other, indicating a need for strategically combining the two. Implications and future directions are discussed.”
To learn much more, check out the full report on this JRST web page.