Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 9, Issue 1, Article 10 (Jun., 2008)
Ercan AKPINAR and Omer ERGIN
Fostering primary school students’ understanding of cells and other related concepts with interactive computer animation instruction accompanied by teacher and student-prepared concept maps

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Interactive Computer Animation

Computer-based cognitive tools are tools that can help learners build their knowledge structures by constructing and manipulating knowledge representation. Computer-based cognitive tools have the potential to meet the requirements of a constructivist framework as tools and resources for their ability to help students acquire knowledge and make sense of it (Orhun, 2002). The computer, as a cognitive tool, engages students in interactions, principally with their own meanings or understandings, as well as those of others, in order to build a more complete, richer understanding. The computer, as a cognitive tool, allows the learner to externalize their thinking, enrich it, manipulate it and change it, all by interacting with one or more conceptual models on the computer (Quinn & Wild, 1998). The computer is expected to contribute to the acquisition of varied knowledge as well as to promote student independence and growth of responsibility for schoolwork (Jedeskog & Nissen, 2004). Specifically, using animation may increase conceptual understanding by promoting the formation of dynamic mental models of the phenomena. The dynamic quality of animation may promote deeper encoding of information than that of static pictures (Williamson & Abraham, 1995:532). Because of the many benefits of animation in science teaching, science education researchers have focused on computer animation to help students’ understanding of complicated science concepts. For instance, Williamson and Abraham (1995) explored the effect of computer animation depicting the particular nature of matter on college students’ mental models of chemical phenomena, and they found that computer animation has a more positive effect on students’ conceptual understanding than traditional instruction. In another study, entitled “A Hypermedia Environment to Explore and Negotiate Student’s Conceptions: Animation of Solution Process of Table Salt” carried out with 11th grade students, Ebenezer (2001) reported that animation can be used to explore, negotiate, and assess students’ conceptions of the submicroscopic aspects of solution chemistry. Also, there are many other studies that widely apply computer animation, simulation and other computer assisted or mediated tools in science education (Ardac & Akaygün, 2004; Windsehitl & Andre, 1998; Yıldırım, 1995). Moreover, there are some studies that use some methods together in science education studies including concept mapping and visualization (Brandt et al., 2001), concept mapping and concept change (Uzuntiryaki, 1998) and concept mapping and the learning cycle (Odom & Kelly, 2001). However, there are few studies that combine computer animation and concept mapping in science education. In the present study, interactive computer animation and the teacher- and student-prepared concept maps were used together to investigate the effects of the instruction (application) including interactive computer animation and teacher and student-prepared concept maps on primary school students’ understanding of cells and other related concepts. The present study also investigated students’ attitudes towards science as a school subject.

In this study, the topic of cells was selected as a main theme because a cell represents a complex conceptual system that includes many interrelated functional parts (eg., membrane, nucleus, and cytoplasm). In general, the cell plays a fundamental role in the primary and middle school students’ understanding of life processes because it is the basic structural and functional unit of living things (Glynn & Takahasti, 1998). A basic understanding of the cell is considered to be an essential component of scientific literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993 in cited Glynn, Takahasti, 1998). The cell is characterized as being a topic that is difficult for students at different educational levels to understand (Flores & Galleges, 2003). The most frequently encountered problem in primary schools is the incoherent use of definitions. Even if the students see a cell under a light microscope, they can’t see the structure of the cell or other organelles in detail. Using interactive computer animation accompanied by concept maps may foster students’ understanding of the cell. Since the topic contains many abstract concepts, and most of these concepts are in Latin with no equivalent terms in Turkish, the subject may be difficult for the students to understand.

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