Science Teaching and Computers….

By the end of Cuban’s book, most readers are probably ready to deny that there is a need for computers in instruction.  However, in 1986, I do not think than Cuban foresaw the kinds of uses of computers that students engage in on a daily basis in physics classrooms. Current methods of inquiry in physics would not exist without the automation of data collection and analyses that a computer enables. Students develop the Laws of Physics collaboratively in groups, working with computers.  One student commands control of a computer that is used to collect data from a motion sensor on the motion of a falling ball. The 100 distance measurements the computer takes every second are displayed live, in graphical form. The students work together to use their mathematical and logical reasoning skills to draw conclusions about the accelerations and forces present in this motion and create models to represent what they have observed. One student records the groups work using a page created on a class Wiki. Through guiding questions and occasional assistance from their teacher, the students develop a mental schemas for physical phenomenon, and learn how to use tools of modern-day scientists. This scenario also could not exist without personal interactions between students and with the teacher.

I can only speak for my own field. Physics pedagogy has developed over the last 15 years into an activity-based, inquiry environment where computers facilitate types of measurements and analyses that were not possible before computers. Computers enable students to get visual representations of abstract phenomena. Computers remove the tedium of manual data collection and enable the student to practice critical thinking analyses.  The mundane, busy work that was where the majority of time was spent in the labs of physics past is now automated. Students are engaged in higher level thinking. I could not imagine going back to the old ways.

For other content areas, computers might not be as crucial to the curriculum.


  1. This is a great explanation of how you integrate technology into your classroom. It is not an add-on, but an important component of the activities in which students participate. I would have preferred taking physics with access to these tools. It would have been more meaningful and would have helped me to make connections that would have increased my understanding of the information.

  2. I completely agree with your statement: “Computers remove the tedium of manual data collection and enable the student to practice critical thinking analyses.” It would seem to me this should be one of the biggest benefits of any technology tool we implement in the classroom.

    The idea of letting an automated program organize, analyze and generate data reports in order to allow students to truly discuss the implications of their research and findings is “priceless” in my opinion!

    This abstract describes it well: “Interactive computer models and simulations can extend traditional learning in high school biology classes (Scheintaub, 2004). Results of this study show that computer models can enhance high school physics learning, too. They do so by extending experiences beyond the limits imposed by text and lab. Computer models complement data gathering and analysis software to bring inquiry to the classroom.”

    I found this quote that I think summarizes what Physics should be about: “Most people who haven’t been trained in physics probably think of what physicists do as a question of incredibly complicated calculations, but that’s not really the essence of it. The essence of it is that physics is about concepts, wanting to understand the concepts, the principles by which the world works.” – Edward Witten (1951 – )

  3. Your post is exactly what we have been talking about in my advanced stats class with the implementation of computers and programs such as SPSS. Data can be organized and analyized rapidly, leaving the researcher with rich information in which to examine and discuss with people of interest. The use of the computer has allowed researchers to work more efficently and understand correlations as well as make more accurate predictions because of the power of the computer.

  4. I agree with Debbie — I wish my high school physics teacher had had the computers and software we have today! I enjoy analysis and discussion, but measuring is really boring!

  5. I think the major difference is that, in the 80s, it was hard for Cuban to see how pervasive computers would become or to conceptualize how they were different from the other three technologies he considers. We never had the opportunity to carry a TV or film projector around in our pocket and they only worked one direction, thus there was less opportunity and fewer reasons to use them. Computers are not only everywhere, but are also interactive. Reading Cuban’s take was funny, with 20/20 hindsight.

  6. Lori wrote: “However, in 1986, I do not think than Cuban foresaw the kinds of uses of computers that students engage in on a daily basis in physics classrooms.” This same phenomenon is occurring today, as teachers reluctantly consider using some of the newer technologies. At the outset, one cannot possibly know how the technology will evolve and become a natural part of how we conduct business (school).

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