Using simulations to teach young students science concepts

an Experiential Learning theoretical analysis

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Early research investigated young students’ understandings of science concepts using physical equipment, but technological advances now mean there are new options to introduce these ideas, through devices such as iPads and simulations. However, research investigating the use of simulations in early years’ science learning is limited. This study applied revisions of Kolb’s Experiential Learning theoretical model to determine if age-indicated science simulations were effective for teaching 5 year olds simple circuit building procedures and electricity concepts, and the function of circuits components. It also explored whether their engagement with the simulations provided worthwhile opportunities to exercise higher order capabilities such as reflective thinking and abstraction – skills often-cited in literature as valuable outcomes from older student and adult use of simulations. Findings indicate students developed a solid base of procedural knowledge about constructing different circuits, and functional knowledge about circuit components they applied to different circuit designs. The emergence of tentative, generalised theories about current and the effects of different circuit designs on the performance of resistors - linked to the exercise of reflective and descriptive thinking, were also noted in many students. However, examples were found of some simulations appearing to foster common misconceptions, such as current being ‘consumed’ by resistors – indicating teachers need to be highly vigilant and work closely with students, to ensure accurate understandings are developed. Overall, with appropriate teacher support and careful selection and review, the study concludes simulations can be effective for introducing young students to simple physical science concepts, and for providing them with opportunities to engage in higher order thinking processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-159
Number of pages22
JournalComputers and Education
Early online date9 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • simulation
  • young students
  • electricity
  • circuits
  • experiential learning

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