Computer-related technology use in the high school physics classroom: a case study

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Virginia Tech

This research explored the high school physics classroom environment when computers and other technology were integral components of the curriculum. The unit of analysis was one high school physics teacher and his regular and honors classes. The main research was conducted in an inductive, qualitative manner that examined the processes involved. Videotapes and audiotapes were made of classroom activities. Dialogs of students and the teacher were recorded and analyzed, revealing ways in which students use technology to learn physics and to solve problems. In addition, results of the Force Concepts Inventory were analyzed to add a quantitative dimension to the research.

The research found that, in this classroom, technology enabled the teacher to plan and conduct a creative, enjoyable introductory physics program. The teacher selected from a plethora of resources--Mechanical Universe High School Adaptation videotapes, videodiscs, Vernier and Pasco probeware, and software which included Interactive Physics II™, Physics Explorer, ClarisWorks, and CA Cricket Graph. A ratio of 3 students to 1 computer allowed groups of students to engage actively in the learning process.

The combination of technology and collaborative learning made a powerful learning experience for the physics students. The technology provided many teachable moments because the teacher was freed from whole-class instruction to concentrate on individuals and small groups. The teacher developed skill in using technology over a period of three years. He continues to develop as new instructional technology becomes available and as he understands more about how students learn. Learning to use technology effectively in the classroom is a process that occurs over a long period of time; it is not an event.

School administrators, school system administrators, and producers of physics instructional technology and textbooks can learn from this study. School administrators must be supportive of risk-taking teachers. They need to develop teacher performance standards that recognize the classroom practices and mentoring efforts of exemplary technology-using teachers.

School districts can help remove barriers to instruction by infrastructure support-- renovating buildings with electrical and network wiring, providing dynamic continuous staff development for teachers and administrators, and contracting for school-wide or district-wide software agreements and equipment maintenance.

Technology, physics, instruction, teachers, high school