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Physics software can improve primary pupils understanding

25/01/2012 Joanna
The way in which primary school teachers educate their pupils about elementary physics could be seriously improved by the use of new teaching software, research by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has indicated.

Examining the way primary children learn about motion, speed and direction, a recent study by the ESRC has found that the levels of understanding improves little during the ages of six and 11.

Studying how much children already know about the way in which objects move, researchers from the University of Cambridge found that the current teaching methods do little to advance this understanding.

Led by Professor Christine Howe, six studies were conducted which asked children to predict the outcome of a computer-simulated event in which a ball would move in certain directions.

Children considered what would happen to various balls which were rolling, falling or colliding with another ball, and researchers found that their level of understanding varied little depending on their age.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Howe said: "This research suggests there's very little improvement with school tasks between the age of six and 11, and that children aren't being taught in the most effective way.

"The software we developed would certainly enhance the knowledge that the children already have, and help them perform better in school."

While the study recognised that pupils' reasoning appeared to change little during their primary school career, irrespective of the current teaching processes, researchers noticed a distinct improvement when using their computer software.

They also noted that the understanding of acceleration as objects fall was virtually non-existent among the children and that the commonly-held misconceptions about aspects of physical motion are hard to remove using current teaching methods.

"The central message of the research is that this free software has significant benefits for primary school children and their understanding of object motion," Professor Howe added.

Posted by Theo FouldsADNFCR-2164-ID-801274299-ADNFCR
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