The computer-based modeling tool I used in the current study is Stagecast Creator. I chose the specific program since is a computer-based programming tool that allows students to build their own microworlds and is considered very beneficial in creating models as part of science education (Louca and Constantinou, 2002). Therefore, a lot of educators conducted studies in the field of modeling by using Stagecast Creator as a computer-based modeling tool (e.g. Louca, 2004; Louca and Constantinou, 2002; Louca and Zacharia, 2008; Papaevripidou et al., 2006).
I had previous experience with the specific tool and I found it very interesting and useful in the learning process of a science lesson. Stagecast Creator is a computer-based programming environment that has great benefits, so I chose it for several reasons. The most important fact that made me decide to use the program is the fact that I wanted to address to different learning styles and Stagecast Creator is considered appropriate for this, since it meets the needs of every student ‘s learning style because it can help anyone to express understandings that he or she has through “the expressive and cognitive pathways most natural” to him or her (Thornburg, 1998).
Moreover, SC can be used by any level of students since it uses rules based on images and doesn’t need any typing from the user, something easier and more pleasant for children. Also, there is no need for learning a difficult programming language, something that was important for the current study since the time that was conducted was limited. Specifically, Stagecast Creator is an object-based modeling tool that allows the control of a character through graphical programming rules that set specific actions (Smith ; Cypher, 1999 cited in Papaevripidou et al., 2006) and which can move the characters in a two dimensional world (Louca and Constantinou, 2002).
Besides, SC allows the user to have full control of the program and manipulating characters directly. The user can create a script that the computer can perform later and the appearance of the whole programming is under students’ control through simple drawing tools (Louca and Constantinou, 2002). Consequently, students become active participants in the learning process, instead of being passive learners, while they can develop deep understanding about the subject under study and be engaged with the learning process (Thornburg, 1998), an important intention of science education.
Data Sources Three primary sources for the collection of the data were used in the current study. First every group meeting was videotaped, including students’ interactions between their peers as well as the teacher (me), in order to be used later in the analysis. Moreover, during the teaching process I kept important notes for things that I was observing in students’ reactions. Also, after every meeting group interviews were conducting in order to gain further knowledge on students’ understandings about the phenomenon under study.
Observations While I was teaching students I was able to make important observations and taking notes for any interesting interactions and reactions students had while they were taught through the two modeling approaches. I prepared a list with specific things that I wanted to observe and therefore I was taking quick notes. However this wasn’t enough, that’s why two cameras were settled and students’ conversations and interactions were videotaped.
I chose observation as a method of collecting data since they are considered “powerful tools for gaining insight into situations” (Cohen et al, 2000, p. 315). The use of observations in the field of educational research can be valuable but at the same time is quite difficult. In the current study observations can be suitable for focusing on the students, in order to investigate the way they work, the way they interact, the way they respond to a teaching method and their general reactions (Wallace, 1998).
By being present in students’ work and an observer at the same time, I was able to have direct access to students’ work and consequently to their reactions and interactions with the specific teaching method. With that way I had the opportunity to ask them questions during the process, in order to understand the way they think and also realise how they respond toward this new teaching method. I felt that by entering fully into students’ world and taking an active part into their activities and experiences I was able to understand their perceptions and actions even better (Simpson and Tuson, 1995).
Group interviews After every meeting, group interviews that lasted about fifteen minutes were conducted. The purpose of these interviews was to probe students’ understandings about the specific phenomenon and verify how well they understood what they were taught, what difficulties they found during the learning process, what helped them get over their difficulties and what was more pleasant for them. I chose to add group interviews after every meeting since as Blumer (1969) supports, sometimes they can be a more valuable source of data gathering even when you have a representative sample (cited in Fontana and Frey, 1994). I preferred group interviews rather than individual interviews since they require less time and they can be less threatening for children (Cohen et al, 2000).
During the interviews I was taking notes, while the interview were recorded and I used them in the analysis later. Group interviews revealed to be quite beneficial since important differences between students’ learning preferences were located. Moreover, students were encouraged to participate equally in the group interviews and all of them should answer the posed questions, so important data were gathered from the specific method.
Data analysis The current study seeks to investigate students’ different interactions against the two modeling approaches and find differences and similarities between the three learning styles. In order to do that I analysed the findings from the two groups separately and then I made a comparison between the two approaches. For the data analysis I used contextual inquiry and I also transcribed students’ conversations during the teaching procedure and during group interviews. Data from students’ conversations in science lessons are vital since they can be used to promote our understanding about the way students learn about and with models and modeling in science (Louca, 2004).
Contextual inquiry is a type of interview where the interviewer speaks to the interviewee individually, by making questions to gather more data, while the interviewee works on his task (Beyer and Holtzblatt, 1998). So, as a researcher during the observation when something interesting was happening I asked relative questions in order to follow-up and therefore gather more data. Also, through the transcription of videotaped data any difficulties and barriers that each student had were noted, along with the ways that helped them get over them. In extend, the way that each student worked and their individual needs during the teaching procedure were distinguished. The group interviews at the end of each session helped the enrichment of the data, since students’ engagement with the learning process could be discriminated as well as the activities that attracted their interest and increase their motivation.