A Technology-Enhanced Unit of Modeling Static Electricity: Integrating scientific explanations and everyday observations

Shen, J., & Linn, M. C. (2011). Connecting scientific explanations and everyday observations: A Technology-Enhanced Unit of Modeling Static Electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 33(12), 1597-1623.


What trajectories do students follow as they connect their observations of electrostatic phenomena to atomic-level visualizations? We designed an electrostatics unit, using the knowledge integration framework to help students link observations and scientific ideas. We analyze how learners integrate ideas about charges, charged particles, energy, and observable events. We compare learning enactments in a typical school and a magnet school in the USA. We use pre-tests, post-tests, embedded notes, and delayed post-tests to capture the trajectories of students’ knowledge integration. We analyze how visualizations help students grapple with abstract electrostatics concepts such as induction. We find that overall students gain more sophisticated ideas. They can interpret dynamic, interactive visualizations, and connect charge- and particle-based explanations to interpret observable events. Students continue to have difficulty in applying the energy-based explanation.