Designing a programming-based approach for modelling scientific phenomena

, , and . Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 21 (2): 143-158 (April 2005)


We describe an iteratively designed sequence of activities involving the modelling of one-dimensional collisions between moving objects based on programming in ToonTalk. Students aged 13–14 years in two settings (London and Cyprus) investigated a number of collision situations, classified into six classes based on the relative velocities and masses of the colliding objects. We describe iterations of the system in which students engaged in a repeating cycle of activity for each collision class: prediction of object behaviour from given collision conditions, observation of a relevant video clip, building a model to represent the phenomena, testing, validating and refining their model, and publishing it – together with comments – on our web-based collaboration system, WebReports. Students were encouraged to consider the limitations of their current model, with the aim that they would eventually appreciate the benefit of constructing a general model that would work for all collision classes, rather than a different model for each class. We describe how our intention to engage students with the underlying concepts of conservation, closed systems and system states was instantiated in the activity design, and how the modelling activities afforded an alternative representational framework to traditional algebraic description.

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