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Title:Exploring middle school students' sensemaking of a gesture-augmented computer simulation depicting thermal conduction
Author(s):Mathayas, Nitasha
Director of Research:Brown, David E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Brown, David E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Lindgren, Robb; Perry, Michelle; Krist, Christina
Department / Program:Curriculum and Instruction
Discipline:Curriculum and Instruction
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):gesture-augmented computer simulation
mixed reality
scientific explanations
embodied cognition
conceptual change
Abstract:Reform documents in science education have called for instruction that guides students to do science rather than know about science (National Research Council (NRC), 2012; NGSS Lead States, 2013). But doing authentic science requires that students engage in the social, epistemic, and cognitive dimensions of scientific sensemaking (Duschl, 2008). If the goal of science instruction is to move students’ sensemaking activities toward those of the scientific community, then we need to know what dimensions of sensemaking are involved in different scientific domains, and how students navigate through these dimensions. In this dissertation, I begin to address this goal by exploring students’ sensemaking activities in the context of one physical science topic, and through their interaction with one gesture-augmented learning environment. Specifically, in this study, I explore how students make sense of a gesture-augmented computer simulation to develop a causal-mechanistic explanation of thermal conduction through a silver spoon. The computer simulation is a dynamic molecular model of a spoon that depicts the causal-mechanism of the spoon’s molecules moving to explain how heat transfer occurs. Moreover, it is augmented with gesture-control to help students use their gestures to make sense of the simulation. The simulation is from a class of embodied mixed-reality learning environments that can enhance student learning of causal-mechanisms by leveraging embodied learning opportunities (Glenberg, 2008; Johnson-Glenberg & Megowan-Romanowicz, 2017). So, the simulation can help students draw on an embodied dimension of sensemaking as they construct causal-mechanistic explanations of the conduction through a spoon. For this study, 21 middle school students were interviewed and video recorded using the gesture-augmented simulation to explain heat transfer through a silver spoon. I used quantitative and qualitative methods to explore their sensemaking. From the quantitative side, I examined whether students moved toward a causal-mechanistic explanation of conduction while using the simulation. I used a Wilcoxon’s signed ranks test to compare students’ explanation scores from before and after using the simulation. Results revealed that there was a significant movement towards causal-mechanisms from using the simulation (T = 1.5, p < .001). In addition, to explore how these students were making sense of the simulation, I looked for patterns in the way they constructed their causal-mechanistic explanations. By plotting their explanation scores over tasks they performed with the simulation, I was able to group students into three broad categories of movement towards causal-mechanisms. Greater than one-third of students were achievers who steadily constructed their responses with tasks in the simulation. Another one-third of students were early-achievers who develop partial causal-mechanistic explanations before they used the gesture-controls of the simulation. Meanwhile, less than one-third of students were low achievers who did not appear to use the simulation in the construction of a causal-mechanistic explanation. To explore these patterns in-depth, the qualitative analysis involved using constructed grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006) to identify dimensions of sensemaking relevant to the gesture-augmented simulation. Three dimensions were found to contribute the most to student sensemaking in this context. First, I found that the conceptual dimension revealed how students integrated knowledge into their explanatory model of thermal conduction. The representational understanding dimension, which shows how students converted the external representations of the simulation into internal representations, revealed how and when students talked about external representations of the simulation as part of their conceptual modeling. Third, the framing dimension involved two subdimensions. The epistemological dimension that revealed when students framed the simulation explanatorily, and the other subdimension is the gesture positioning dimension, which showed when students positioned their hands as inside (or a part of) the simulation. On using these dimensions to explore cases, I gained new insight into how students were making sense of the simulation. One achiever case study underscored the role of gesturing in perceiving causal-mechanisms in the simulation. One early-achiever case study underscored the interaction of framing the simulation in her sensemaking, and one low achiever case study underscored the interaction between his intuitive thinking and the simulation’s external representations in sensemaking. Some key insights from the qualitative analysis are that the simulation’s gestures seemed to help students to (a) perceive and articulate the intended causal-mechanisms depicted in the simulation, (b) manipulate their imagistic models but also engage their intuitive thinking and, (c) refocus causal attribution towards the intended causal agents. Yet, the impact of gesturing depended on students’ framing of the simulation and how they positioned their hand in the simulation. This analysis not only contributes new knowledge about sensemaking dimensions with a gesture-augmented computer simulation, it supports and extends research in the fields of visualizations, gestures, conceptual change, and mixed-reality learning environments. Further, I included different ways the simulation can be used in instruction by proposing ways to scaffold guidance with the simulation. Future work can draw on the foundation of sensemaking set in this study to explore other embodied learning environments.
Issue Date:2020-04-22
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/107906
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Nitasha Mathayas
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-26
Date Deposited:2020-05


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