What does "fast" mean? Understanding the physical world through computational representations

Orit Parnafes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


This article concerns the development of conceptual understanding of a physical phenomenon through the use of computational representations. It examines how students make sense of and interpret computational representations, and how their understanding of the represented physical phenomenon develops in this process. Eight studies were conducted, in which pairs of students were engaged in an exploratory activity of natural harmonic oscillation. They first explored physical oscillators (e.g., springs, pendulums) and then interacted with dynamic and interactive computational representations that represent aspects of natural harmonic oscillation. The analysis focuses on selected episodes demonstrating critical steps in the development of the students' understanding. It offers a detailed description of these steps and closely examines students' interaction with various features of the representations in order to identify the relations between use of representations and students' developing understanding. A theory of conceptual change, coordination class theory (diSessa & Sherin, 1998), is used to track the development process of students' understanding with representations. The detailed analysis aims to construct a model describing mechanisms of developing understanding through the mediation of computational representations. Thesignificance of this study is in its close look at the detailed process of learning and conceptual change in computational environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-450
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of the Learning Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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