Learning Newton's Second Law Using a Microcomputer Based Laboratory Curriculum

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This study investigated the effect of theory-based Microcomputer Based Laboratory instruction on high school students' understanding of Newton's second law in a high school physics course taught by the teacher-researcher. The study focused on 1) the effect of the theory-based MBL instructional design on student understanding of Newton's second law, 2) on the changes in conceptual understanding that occurred, and 3) on the effect of student learning beliefs on conceptual change. Data sources included pretest and posttest measures of conceptual understanding, audiotape debriefings of students during a seven day unit, and pretest and posttest measures of students' motivational and self-regulated learning beliefs. The design of the instructional unit was based on prior research and theory. It is important to specify the characteristics as well as the content of the knowledge we would like students to construct. Desirable characteristics of physics knowledge are that it be accurate, extendable, integrated with other knowledge, recognized as knowledge, related to experience and experiment, strategic, and available in multiple representations including verbal, graphical, algebraic, pictorial, and story representations. Proponents argue that appropriately designed Microcomputer Based Laboratory instruction can promote construction of such knowledge. The theory-based instructional unit employed real-time computer graphing of force and motion variables in a novel "iconographic" experiment which enabled students to determine the relationship between force and motion variables by simple recognition. The study found that the nature of students' conceptual change was consistent with the mechanisms postulated for MBL instruction, that the short chain of reasoning in the iconographic force and motion experiment allowed students to readily identify and focus on the goals of the experiment rather than be distracted by a profusion of sub-goals, that this instruction is more effective than some traditional instruction and as effective as some other theory-based instruction in Newton's second law, based on Force Concept Inventory (Hestenes, Wells, & Swackhamer, 1992) and Force and Motion Concept test (Thornton, 1992a) scores. The study failed to achieve the goal of relating motivational, cognitive and performance measures using the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990).