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Engaging students in computational modeling: The role of an external audience in shaping conceptual learning, model quality, and classroom discourse

Abstract

"Research suggests that designing for an external audience may support conceptual understanding by offering students increased opportunities to reframe perspectival thinking in ways that support domain-specific reasoning. While this argument is theoretically compelling, to our knowledge, it has not been empirically tested in terms of comparing the conceptual growth of students designing computational models for an external audience to the conceptual growth of students designing computational models for a classroom audience of their teacher and peers. In a constructionist agent-based computational modeling environment, we compare the conceptual understanding, artifact quality, and discourse of 6th grade students designing models of tides primarily for an external audience of younger students (i.e., designing for 5th graders) to the conceptual understanding of 6th grade students designing models for a classroom audience. We found that students who designed for an external audience of younger children displayed greater conceptual growth about the mechanisms that cause tidal bulges as evidenced by students' pre-post assessments, models, and user guides/reports. Our analysis of classroom discourse suggests that designing for an audience of younger children may have facilitated domain-specific reasoning in whole-class discussions by creating opportunities for shifts between students' own perspectives and the perspectives of their anticipated audience."

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