1 Polytechnic of Porto, School of Education (PORTUGAL)
2 Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN15 Proceedings
Publication year: 2015
Pages: 5687-5696
ISBN: 978-84-606-8243-1
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 7th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2015
Location: Barcelona, Spain
The work presented in this paper was developed in the context of the SimSense project that aims at understanding how computer simulations and electronic sensors may be used by in-service and pre-service teachers to scaffold science learning in elementary education.

Our previous research showed that senses, sensors and computer simulations can be used as didactical resources to relate concrete experimental data sensing and theoretical abstract information. The work presented here aims at a deeper understanding of the potential and limitations of the separate use of sensors and computer simulations, fostering to make it possible to improve teachers’ mediation, overcoming such difficulties, through the joint use of those tools.

The research questions (RQ) are:
RQ1: What potentialities and difficulties in relating abstract information and more concrete information were identified, when using senses and sensors in experimental science teaching?
RQ2: What potentialities and difficulties in relating abstract information and more concrete information were identified, when using simulations in experimental science teaching?

A set of case studies are analysed:
1) two case studies that used sensors and senses in elementary schools;
2) two case studies that used simulations in science teaching in an elementary teacher education school.

Multimodal narratives are used to analyse the students’ activities, including epistemic practices (EP), and teachers’ mediation.

The analysis of the two case studies developed in elementary schools contributed to answer RQ1, showing that the joint use of senses and sensors, mediated by teachers, allowed children to:
1) discover diverse environmental objects/phenomena and variables;
2) to observe what is unobservable with senses;
3) develop complex EP, such as interpreting and relating.

Nevertheless, the use of senses and sensors created difficulties in scientific inquiry activities, showing the need for the manipulation of abstract models. This can possibly be accomplished through the use of simulations and concreteness fading to:
i) link the data acquired by senses and sensors to the iconic and the numeric models;
ii) enhance the development of conceptual models grounded on data acquired by senses and sensors and, thus, the development of even more complex EP like modelling.

The analysis of the two case studies developed in a teacher education school contributed to answer RQ2. While exploring the models, students were able to develop EP such as communicate, identify empirical conditions and relate the models to the observable world. However, students showed difficulties in relating the conditions of experimental work to the conditions of the simulations’ models and in relating these models to their everyday sensations and perceptions.

This may be overcome by complementing the use of simulations with the joint use of sensors and senses to:
1) bridge the gulf between the abstractedness of simulations’ parameters and the more concrete data acquired by senses and sensors;
2) relate senses and sensors’ data to the manipulable models.

On the basis of the results presented here, future work will deepen the research of :
1) a set of affordances of the joint use of senses, sensors and simulations to overcome the identified students’ difficulties;
2) the possibility of using those three epistemic mediators to implement a concreteness fading strategy with children and an abstractedness fading strategy in teacher education.
Computer Simulations, Sensors, Senses, Science Teaching, Abstract Thinking.