1 Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (ISRAEL)
2 Tel Aviv University (ISRAEL)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN18 Proceedings
Publication year: 2018
Pages: 9293-9296
ISBN: 978-84-09-02709-5
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2018.2193
Conference name: 10th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 2-4 July, 2018
Location: Palma, Spain
Computation is the third paradigm for scientific exploration, alongside theory and experimentation that preceded it historically. In computational science, computation is the main research method. A clear example of this is simulation, which enables to test scenarios that are beyond the reach of theoretical models and / or laboratory equipment, such as climate change and global warming. Computational thinking is the term that refers to the thought processes involved in performing computational research, including the design and use of computational tools.

A review of the high school and university curricula in science and engineering reveals that theory and experimentation are well represented in them, whereas computation is not adequately reflected. Given the increasing need to provide students with computational education, this paper describes a novel way for the development of computational thinking among high school and university students. The proposed approach is based on the construction of difference equations in spreadsheets.

It is important to note that the current use of spreadsheets in science and engineering education focuses mainly on exploiting the graphic capabilities of the spreadsheet in order to study a given solution to a physical (or engineering) problem. This use is deductive in nature because the general solution is known and the student is supposed to investigate its behavior in specific domains, according to relevant parameter values.

The approach we propose is substantially different from the existing approach aforementioned. We propose an inductive approach in which the solution to the physical (or engineering) problem is not given. Instead, the student constructs his / her knowledge, as well as the difference equation that describes the physical phenomenon, based on the scenarios investigated in the spreadsheet. In other words, the proposed method enables inquiry-based learning that ends with the construction of the difference equation that characterizes the phenomenon at hand. Thus, we believe, it promotes more meaningful learning compared to the existing computational methods aforementioned.

In order to illustrate the proposed approach, this paper presents two examples taken from the physics curriculum at both the high school and higher education levels. The first example is in classical mechanics and involves a damped harmonic oscillator, while the second example is in electromagnetism and focuses on a parallel RLC circuit.
Computational thinking, constructionism, difference equations, spreadsheets.