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Exploring the effects of computer simulations in developing conceptual understanding of Grade 10 learners in direct current circuits.

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Physical sciences are perceived as difficult by learners in high school in South Africa and beyond. One of the challenging topics in Physical sciences is the topic of electricity. The Physical sciences National Further Education and Training examiners’ reports over the years have highlighted that learners in this topic scored less marks compared to other topics in national examinations. The researcher was then curious to find out why learners have difficulty with the topic of electricity. The project intends to explore if there are any better ways to learn the topic of electricity. In the process, the researcher intends to make possible recommendations on how best to plan for and teach the topic of electricity. A study was then undertaken at a school in KwaZulu-Natal to determine if the use of computer simulations can enhance the understanding of this topic of electricity. First, all participants were exposed to traditional instruction and then a conceptual test was administered to determine the alternative conceptions they had on the topic of electricity. After the test, participants were split into groups. One group was treated to computer simulations and another group continued with traditional instruction. During the administration of the computer simulations, video data were collected to examine the behaviour of learners during an intervention with computer simulations. In order to understand the depth of the alternative conceptions and to have an insight into learners thought processes, interview data were also collected to triangulate the concept test data and video data. Therefore, this study followed a mixed methods design where quantitative data and qualitative data was collected at the same time. Quantitative data were collected using a concept test and qualitative data were collected using video and interview schedules. An analysis of the test scores before implementation of computer simulations showed that participants held a number of alternative conceptions on the topic of electricity. A post-test analysis showed that the group exposed to computer simulations had a significantly high average score compared to the group that continued with traditional instruction. Details of the reasons for the improved scores after using computer are discussed in detail in this report. One of them, among others, is the greater visualisation that PhET simulations bring when analysing direct current circuits. Teachers and curriculum developers would gain a lot of insight on how to plan and teach the topic of electricity more effectively by going through this research report.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.