How Computer Simulators Can Help Provide a Bridge Between Students' Initial Models and Target Instructional Models of Physics Phenomena

Fred Goldberg

San Diego State University San Diego, California, USA

Computer simulations, coupled with hands-on laboratory experiments, can play an important role in helping students develop robust models of phenomena in physics. In this talk I will show how special features of computer software seem particularly useful in providing a conceptual bridge between students initial models of physics phenomena and the target models. I will use examples from a Light and Color simulator and from a Static Electricity simulator, both having been developed as part of the Constructing Physics Understanding (CPU) Project, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation. In the CPU lens simulator, students can easily manipulate a spray of light rays to help promote the idea that image formation is a point-to-point mapping between object and corresponding image points. In the CPU static electricity simulator, students manipulate insulators and conductors that incorporate a built-in macroscopic charge model. Working with the simulator helps students develop the idea that static electric phenomena can result from processes involving both charge transfer between bodies and charge re-arrangement within bodies.

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