Using animated simulations to support young students' science learning

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Technology-based simulation use in education and training is not new, with the first studies exploring their efficacy dating back to the early 1980s. While much of this work has been completed in adult education within contexts focused on manual skills training, increasing emphasis is being placed on their use in school education for procedural and conceptual learning in areas such as mathematics and science. This is being supported by growing numbers of mobile digital devices such as iPads in classrooms, facilitated by provisioning programs including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and COWs (Computers on Wheels). Large numbers of low or no cost apps, many of which include embedded simulations, are easily available through online repositories, supporting seamless integration into classroom curricula. In science education some research has been completed exploring simulations used to augment physical experience such as introducing lab or experimental procedures, or as an aid to understanding more abstract concepts that may not normally have been accessible to students. However, almost all of this work has been undertaken with older college or university students. To date, very little is known about how or what young students learn from simulations, and if the ‘cognitive benefits’ associated with older student and adult use of simulations, hold true for early years learning. This chapter summarises the methods and findings of two related studies investigating this phenomenon, within the context of 5 year olds learning simple circuit building procedures and electricity concepts. The first study explored knowledge-building and transfer across four animated simulation apps introducing a range of circuit designs and concepts, while the second focused on the students’ abilities and cognitive processes engaged when transferring this learning to equivalent, ‘real world’ tasks. Results were mixed, with data indicating solid basic procedural knowledge development and transfer within and between the simulations and to a lesser extent to the equipment-based tasks, but very limited conceptual development and transfer. It also signalled possible issues with how some younger students interpreted concepts depicted in visual representations included in the simulations, with some appearing to encourage common misconceptions. While sufficient evidence was found supporting simulations for general thinking skill development, teachers using them with students of this age need to be mindful of their role in scaffolding concept-building, to ensure robust and accurate knowledge construction.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLearning from animations in science education
    Subtitle of host publicationinnovating in semiotic and educational research
    EditorsLen Unsworth
    Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
    PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
    Number of pages28
    ISBN (Electronic)9783030560478
    ISBN (Print)9783030560461
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Publication series

    NameInnovations in Science Education and Technology
    ISSN (Print)1873-1058
    ISSN (Electronic)2213-2236


    • simulations
    • early years
    • science
    • procedural
    • conceptual
    • transfer
    • learning

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