Physics in computers: computers as a tool in the teaching and learning of the physical sciences


The high number of failures in Physics, in many educational levels and in some countries, indicates well the obstacles facing all students in studying this science. The cause of this problem is not sufficiently clarified. So, the solution was not.

However, one of the reasons for learning that is unsuccessful in physics, the way of teaching is not uncommon to show for teachers as not concerned with newer learning theories and not using very modern techniques, whereas students reported having inadequate cognitive development [1 ], the preparation of the weakness of mathematics and the pre-existence of conception relating to common sense and not scientific logic [2]. We must also add, especially in secondary education in Portugal,

One of the physics traits that make it most difficult for students is that it is concerned with abstract, and in large part, concepts contrary to intuition. Ability of pupils to be abstracted, especially younger ones, decreases. As a result, not a few of them can not know the relationship between physics and real life.

It is the responsibility of teachers to submit their students empirical effective learning, overcome the very common constraints and modernize the pedagogical tools they use as much as possible. Based on the information from Hestenes [3] the traditional way of training Physics is inadequate. As Lawson and McDermott [4] argue, the failure of learning will not be surprising if the concept of housing and hard to watch is presented only verbally or verbatim. Appropriate instructional techniques should therefore be disseminated and encourage location emphasis on a qualitative understanding of fundamental physical principles.

II The emergence of computers in teaching

The history of computer usage in education is often divided into two periods: before and after the emergence of personal computers. The personal computer, which was present in the late 1970s, was an urgent matter in the democratization of computer use.

The first individual computer came in 1979 and the others soon followed. Indeed, IBM introduced in 1981 its personal computer, IBM-PC, which soon became popular (Figure 1-a). The impact of this new machine was so great that in 1982 Time magazine saw it as “this year’s machine” ( In 1984 Apple introduced a Macintosh computer, a revolutionary machine for usage facilities offered by its graphical interface (Figure 1-b). The same year emerged, with great success, the Windows operating system, Of Microsoft, with features similar to the Macintosh. Different steps that judge is toward the democratization of information technology.

The year 1980 was marked by the history of computers in education. Seymour Papert, a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and author of the book ” Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas ” [12], made the computer language Logo by which children with more than six years can program and drawing math numbers. The language logo has a big impact ” because it provides powerful computing ease for children and a way to say about education that is completely different. Some of these conveniences, like graphs, have revolutionary properties to look at the computing power available at the time, and for a long time the Logo is the only educational tool that enables students to develop educational work with computers.

Like Seymour Papert, American physicist Alfred Bork is a pioneer in computer usage in education. In 1978, Bork, at a conference sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers, entitled ” Interactive Learning ”, claimed only a few prophecies. [14] We were at the beginning of a great revolution in education, an unrivaled revolution since the invention of the press written. Computers will be the device of this revolution. Although we just started – computers as learning devices in schools when these are comparable to all other learning modes, barely exist – the speed is going to be about 15 years ahead. In 2000, the main format of learning at all levels and in almost all areas will pass through the interactive use of computers.

Another urgent advance in the application of informatics for education was, in the 1980s, the growth of the Internet. By the end of the decade the World Wide Web was made, which became popular only in the 1990s. The impact on education, by creating the Internet more easily accessible, the largest. The 1990s was marked by the emergence of more powerful processors and greater graphics skills. Computers are becoming increasingly cheap, allowing them to breed in schools and homes.

At the beginning of this century, we witnessed a new generation of computers and communications equipment, which, in addition to its valuable graphic quality, has a major advantage in portability. This is the case, for example, Personal Personal Assistant (PDA) (Figure 2-a) and the latest individual computer developed by the US company OQO (Figure 2-b).

The advent of technology and other media for communication (such as Wireless Application Protocol or WAP and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System or UMTS) offers a new educational perspective that needs to be developed and evaluated. For example, the Stanford Learning Lab (, developed at Stanford University, California, aims to study the use of a number of prototypes of mobile communications in foreign language learning. Similarly, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston is developing a project called Games-for-Teaching ( (Figure 3), which explores aspects of the game, strives to provide a new learning device intended for portable equipment.


III The basics for computer use in teaching

Both computing devices are present and the latest growth in learning theory has contributed to a number of changes in education. From an early age we struggle to support the use of computer pedagogics in the knowledge of student learning methods. For Papert [12] students should be made available “tools that allow the exploration of cognitive nutrition or the elements that make up knowledge”. It has become a “consensus of the growing psychology of contributions and the psychology of learning what it takes to go to computer understanding makes it a partner that provides learning opportunities. ” [15] Even if computer papers do not contribute to better education for each student (taking into account the differences between individual learning processes and rhythms, the adequacy of the many skills of individual content, the need to equip young people with tools that develop their cognitive skills, etc. ), we soon fell into a mere extension of traditional teaching [16]. Some experiments have been tried, and the results are still early. As referring to Plomp and Voogt [17], ” despite the decades of research and experience, we are still on the (re) stage of making computer usage modes in education ”.

Since the first computer was introduced in school, the application of computer science in teaching can be summarized in three periods, following the major theoretical changes of learning.

The first generation is composed by behaviorist theory. Behaviorism is based on studies of studied and measurable behavior of pupils [18]. Based on the description of this theory, the mind is a “black box”, in the sense that it responds to stimuli that can be observed and measured, not interested in the mental processes in it [19]. Thus, the assumption behind this first period is:

??? Student behavior can be reasonably guessed if the intended learning objective has been recognized and the way it will be used to achieve it [20].

??? The knowledge that students should get can be decomposed into a basic module, which the domain together will produce the expected results [21].

??? The application of behaviorist theory is reasonably reliable in order to assure the efficiency of teaching developed by systematic software, and even teacher intervention is not required [22].

The second generation of computer use in teaching is structured by cognitive theory. It is based on mental processes that are the basis of behavior. In other words, the observed evolution in student behavior is picked up as an indicator of the process that is going on in his mind [19]. The cognitive theory – developed, inter alia, by Swiss Jean Piaget – suggests that the learning outcomes of gradual knowledge structuring are carried out by the instructor. Although present in the late 1950s, merely in the late 1970s cognitive psychology began to give effective influence to concrete ways of coaching. Design [23]. The assumption that there are no two students who are psychologically the same and that these differences can not be neglected has caused little improvement in the use of computers. It is the one step leading to education according to respect for individuality.

In the 90’s, technological civilization allowed the emergence of a third generation. This third generation is based on constructivist theory, which according to each student fostering his vision of the world through his personal experience [19]. Experienced theories of constructivism assume that “all learners build their own facts or strongly do not interpret them according to their perceptions of empirical and therefore individual knowledge is a benefit of empirically taken, mental structures and beliefs used to mean things” [24]. In this context, the promotion of students’ skills to guess qualitatively the occurrence of symptoms is more urgent than the manipulation of formulas or other formal devices. The new generation is characterized by an emphasis on student-machine interaction. The nature of this interaction can be just as important (or even more important) as the information content or presentation technique.

The least-used presentation media becomes hypertext because it allows non-linear learning rather than sequential learning. The links in the document allow students to choose our path and move along it, even though there is a danger of ” lost ” in hyperspace. Addressing this problem, Jonassen and McAlleese [25] complained that successive stages of knowledge acquisition required learning of a different kind. Initially, the acquisition of knowledge is best reached by conventional means, with concentrations at pre-determined sequentially transmitted contents, whereas in the next stage a constructive kind of environment may be more appropriate.


IV Computer usage mode

Let’s briefly review the main ways of using computers in the teaching of science in general and physics in particular.

1) Data retrieval by computer

Since physics is an experimental science, the laboratory plays a central role in its teaching. The computer has been pursuing a permanent place in the school’s laboratory and its use in this location is widespread [2].

Champagne et al. [2], inter alia, advocated in the 1980s the use of computers in experimental data revenue in laboratories. Much has evolved since then. Using appropriate sensors and padded devices, students can now measure and control variables such as position, speed, acceleration, force, temperature, etc. (Figure 4). Computers allow new learning conditions by spending students with real-time quantity of physical quantities that give them direct answers to the questions raised earlier. Graphical display of data facilitates fast reading and interpretation.

2) Modeling and simulation

Modeling / simulation is perhaps a very popular physics learning environment using computers. The term modeling is often used when emphasis is submitted to the programming model, whereas the simulation refers to the condition in which the model is “black box.” This distinction is somehow produced and not uncommonly clear. Since the laws of physics are defined by differential equations, models can be constructed and immediately simulate certain physical problems: for example, the free fall of the serious orbital movements of the planet under the influence of one or more stars, the movement of stars from star stars, or even collisions two galaxies. For example, a simulation can be executed when differential equations are not available, but algorithmic schemes: logistic maps (equations for differences present in the introductory study of chaos) and finite diffusion aggregations (processes representing, for example, crystallization symptoms). By allowing “conceptual modeling” / simulation closest to the learning format called ‘discovery’ ‘[28].

The modeling environment allows students to foster a model of the physical world that would be not enough more [29]. This environment is sometimes referred to as’ microworlds’ ‘[30], which is an environmental example according to the Logo language [31], the Alternate Reality Kit (ARK), which is used to create interactive simulations.

When using computational simulations according to the physical reality model, the student’s basic behavior consists of processing the value of input variables or parameters and examining the change of results (Figure 5).


Although the simulation does not completely replace the reality they represent, the simulation is very useful for dealing with empirical which is difficult or impossible to implement in practice (because it is too expensive, too dangerous, too slow, too fast, etc.). When confronted with a ” game ‘character, the simulation presents a reward for reaching a particular destination.

Access to good simulations contributes to solving a number of questions in the teaching of science [18]. In fact, students who develop and develop their thinking on a particular scientific subject face a unique problem that can be resolved by a simulated environment guided by pedagogical problems. This can be done at an early stage in learning this eye because students do not need to master all the underlying mathematical formalism to explore a given simulation. Conversely, if students were simply given the equation as a model of reality, they would be placed in a position where they were not in their common or known physical ideas. This is a clear situation of hindering learning [12].

The Graphics and Tracks Program (Figure 6), designed by David Trowbridge of the University of Washington in Seattle and edited by the Academic Physics Software (an action by the American Society of Physics) is a good example of the contributions that can be made by educational research for device development computing [32]. Its development is based on the obstacles students find in the relationship between body movement and graphical representation of each. Thus, the program consists of two parts: unity, from monitoring the behavior of the body (position, velocity or acceleration graph as time consuming), the student must decide on their respective trajectories; in another element, the pupil must graphically reflect the behavior of the body after examining its movements. the padded device will respond with appropriate feedback, reinforcement if the answer is correct, or with appropriate indications to reach the solution if the answer is false.

3) Multimedia

This mode of computer usage is based on the concept of hypertext or, more broadly, hypermedia. The term multimedia means that a program can include many elements, such as text, sound, images (silence or animation), simulations, and videos [34]. Following the motto ” a picture is worth a thousand words, ” the information provided should be sevisual as possible. The hypertext module has few internal links and our users do not need to follow linear paths. Based on your baggage and interest, you can choose the parts of the module that are very interesting for you. Other Links will allow the user to switch easily between different modules. The urgent character of multimedia is interactivity and flexibility in choosing the path to follow. Without this characteristic “… it is impossible to create students into active participants in the learning process.” Possibility in this field is greatest. Although in a book it is also possible to suggest to a student that he or she solves a lesson at some point, it is not at all appropriate to make a judgment of the results obtained and advocate an advanced path, for example, to view previously uncontrolled concepts or to move quickly to the subject different “[35].

Because both interactivity and flexibility are needed to ensure personal and active learning, multimedia education benefits have been most encouraged. Its adherents claim that it is an easy format to learn because your brain processes information with free concept associations. However, the sequential process, which continues to lead the majority of program organizations, seems more appropriate to systematize content.

Multimedia can work online or offline depending on where information is collected, on the Internet, or on a local disk. Connections between online and offline are now easy to reach: so local disks can refer to the Internet. Off-line multimedia market does not fill the powerful expectations that at one point are notified because perhaps for the great civilization of the online form, which is typically cheaper. However, offline multimedia is an indisputable utility educational tool: among other things not to be delivered in Physics is the Cartoon Photographs Guide to Physics (Figure 9), according to a unique book of the same title as Gonick and Huffman [36] , which can be used for lectures and additional curricular work. Like other multimedia products aimed at learning science, the program summarizes a series of interactive simulations.

While the success of multimedia in science education is somewhat limited, its role in supplementing student motivation should not be ignored. Indeed, even before students’ understanding barriers arise, lack of enthusiasm for learning science may be the cause of failure.

4) Virtual Reality

The virtual reality is defined by Harison and Jaques [37] as “a technological group that enables us to provide people with a very convincing illusion that they are in another reality: this fact (virtual environment) merely exists in digital form in computer memories.” , virtual reality can be digested as a technology that facilitates the interaction between human beings and machines and virtual environments, a scenario composed by a three-dimensional model, saving and administered by computers, using computer graphics techniques. [38] Among the first virtual reality software is scientific visualization [39] and education [9].

Based on the information from Papert [12], a good learning environment requires free contact between the user and the computer. However, interface reduction is a necessary situation to have an immersive virtual reality. In the pedagogical use of virtual reality, concentration is placed in environments that allow students to interact with computers without restrictions or with few restrictions.

Virtual reality spends a set of distinctive features that make it interesting as a learning medium [38]:

??? Virtual reality is a powerful visualization tool for studying complex, three-dimensional conditions.

??? Students are free to interact directly with virtual objects, working on the experience of one man.

??? The virtual environment allows for trial and error learning conditions that can encourage students to explore the many possibilities.

??? The virtual environment can provide adequate feedback, allowing students to focus their attention on certain issues.

??? Virtual reality systems can acquire and display graphical data in real-time.

The main characteristics provided by virtual reality for the benefit of education are immersion (mostly sensations derived from the virtual environment), interactivity (free navigation, reference options, etc.) and manipulation (actions performed by the user in the real world). An important educational element is the closeness between the user (student) and the information on the computer (educational content) [40]. Virtual reality has been perceived as a powerful teaching and training tool among other propositions because it allows interaction with the most realistic and empirical multisensor three-dimensional models perceived by the instructor.

The usefulness of the graphical model offered by virtual reality technology in order to establish a true conceptual model has been recognized. To prove for virtual reality in the teaching and learning of Physics and Chemistry, the Center for Computational Physics from Coimbra University was developed, in collaboration with the Guarda Polytechnic Institute, Infante D. Henrique de Coimbra Exploration and Mathematics Department, Coimbra University, a virtual environment – called Air Virtual – on the structure microscopic water

This virtual environment includes concepts about the material phase, phase transitions, atomic orbitals and molecules. Scenarios are shown on a computer screen, and perhaps or perhaps not stereoscopic. In the latter case, exclusive goggles (connected to a computer graphics card) are used which, together with a computer screen, hand over a relief effect, that is, the sensation that the virtual scene object hovers forward in the intermediate space and the screen. User interaction with the program is executed by conventional techniques with the mouse.

5) Internet

The Internet has felt tremendous success in society at the prevalent and in schools in particular [41]. It has become a very large and very active library in the world, with the walls of the “reverse” study space passing direct connections to information sources. The Internet in connection with the many means of computer use in teaching discussed above. In fact, the use of computer networks may include exploitation:

??? Simulation. These can be downloaded from the Internet or used online if written in Java or similar (applet).

??? Multimedia. The standard language of the World Wide Web, called Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), is a multimedia language.

??? Virtual reality. The Virtual Modeling Reality Language (VRML) is the standard language for representing objects or three-dimensional scenarios on the Internet. In areas such as the Matter of Condensation of Physics or Molecular Physics, where the model is usually three-dimensional, VRML can be used to add conceptual understanding

Taking a dividend from Internet learning can be more interactive and personal. Teachers will help students to dig and choose highly relevant information in the vast ‘oceans of information’ by giving them a destination to navigate. In this atmosphere, the teacher’s role will cease to be the most central (just one speaker and few listeners) becoming more peripheral (many speakers and few listeners). However, the role of the teacher will not be quite relevant from before. In particular, it should be ignored by the increasing range of teacher actions that enable the Internet.

Many courses are now accessible on the Internet. Sometimes, when presenting courses on the Internet, not only our looks but also our new content. Let’s see for example the evolution of this content. One characteristic of education today is the compartmentalization and specialization of teaching by region and subarea. Although this affair is understandable and even necessary, it has the effect of obscuring links in one of the different areas. For example, students in the field of tips or exact sciences fail to recognize that the ideas and the way they learn in the practice of Calculus or Linear Algebra is exactly what they need to solve the problems they face.

Thus, a number of universities have started exploring other techniques to organize educational content. For example, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, offers a module-based program ( Modules ” Mechanics, Linear Algebra, and bicycles ” are not designed to teach mechanics, linear algebra or bicycles. Instead, the module is intended to serve as a guide to a number of mathematical concepts of mathematics and mechanics, namely vectors, matrices and systems of linear equations. This module aims to influence students to understand bicycle working techniques and design techniques. This module offers students the opportunity to study a number of aspects of mechanics and mathematics, a major theme is the relationship between mathematics and engineering ascertained by the physical model. As a graphical demonstration, applets for Java allow students to create new forms of bikes in two dimensions

V The difficulty of computer integration in teaching

The balance of computer usage in teaching has proven to be undeniably positive, not only because it is an urgent instrument for active instruction, according to the progressive discovery of knowledge by pupils and more autonomy from learning, but also because of new issues and waking up a number of old problems, re-introducing discussions around urgent issues such as teacher-students, student relationships and the development of teachers and students’ abilities.

For a number of “prophets” like Alfred Bork, computers seem to be the key to radical and definitive evolution in teaching. For others, it is nothing more than a scare machine that they can not control and that undermines the power of the teacher. It has been found that both groups are not entirely correct. If the computer in the education field has never seen a real threat to the teacher, either by replacing it or by withdrawing it from the class, it also can not solve the promise of some educational software problems by opening the door to a remarkable pedagogical world. Indeed, despite its stated potential, computers have not been a magical key to the evolution of education. Computers have revolutionized our technique of doing research in physics but have not significantly changed our technique of physics teaching. “As a teaching tool, computers have not reached a prominent place.There is still a lack of evidence for the usefulness of computer programs, which indicate how they fit into the curriculum and contribute to the success of the school.Often the computer is witnessed by students and lecturers, more as an entertainment engine than as a working device .

Based on the description of Cornu [43] two theorems explain the poor use of computers in schools: generalization and integration. Generalization is here the meaning of socialization and assimilation of this technology by all teachers. According to him not a few attempts are made to develop educational tools and not a little work done that uses computers in education. However, it is only a small percentage of teachers who use computers either in the context of a study room room or as a complement to outside classroom exercises. On the other hand, Cornu assumes that, in teaching, new technology is still integrated into the old discipline. Why, new technology will only be integrated when they are not enhancements, added to what already exists, but when they pick up places and become ‘natural’ and ‘invisible’ like phones, televisions and pocket calculators “43].

In this regard, it should be remembered the computer pencil analogy presented by Seymour Papert at the 1999 conference entitled ” Diversity in learning: the vision for a new millennium ”: Imagine a society in which schools exist, but notes have been created. So there is no book or pencil. All teaching is done through oral transmission. One day someone made a writing and pencil and felt that it would be the beginning of the revolution in learning. Then set to put a pencil in each classroom. The essence of the pencil is not something that can be used for only a few hours a week or even a day, but throughout the times when you need it, without having to move to certain places at certain times. These are individual instruments and the same affairs will occur with technological resources. They will be pencils of the future, because they will be used anywhere, whenever needed and for so many purposes. And,”.

For Mucchielli [44] the main problems associated with computer usage are material and pedagogical properties. With regard to material issues,

??? The fact that hard fixtures are quickly becoming obsolete.

??? The availability of hard fixtures (for example, in the majority of schools there is still one computer per pupil in the class).

??? Hard fix link (eg Connection problem, electrical outlet, etc.) And equipment maintenance.

??? The problem of pedagogical traits can be systematized as follows:

??? Most programs leave little to be desired, not used by students in the study or at home.

??? The evaluation of the program is difficult, given the increase in this number. This makes it difficult to understand highly relevant programs and teachers can not adequately assess their adequacy for their pedagogical purposes.

??? Difficulty in obtaining software weighted | weighted | good quality. Often the results of the presentation by the teacher of the padded device in the classroom are monotonous for the students.

??? Lack of teacher training to use new technology. In fact, there is no point in using the best hardware and device in the class if the teacher is not splashed deeply.

Computer pedagogical potential can only be fully realized if there is a decent educational program

with good quality [45]. A study of the use of computers in a number of educational systems, categorized as Portuguese, conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, decided that one of the things that gave the computer pedagogical usage limit was the lack of educational programs with the required quality [46]. In order for learners to participate, one must first ensure that the environment in which he will realize most of his efforts is unique and stimulating, even to cope with the rejection of instruments that explore new teaching strategies.

Plomp and Voogt [17] argue that the majority of educational tools do not integrate with the curriculum, some of which are well-designed exercises-and-exercise or tutorials, reminiscent of Behaviorist theories, and not sophisticated exploring modern computer skills. Hofstein and Walberg [47] also consider that the majority of educational devices are not weighted | weighted | of high quality and that their development should consider the results of cognitive science, their integration into the curriculum and user interface. The development of educational tool is not uncommon in times with the didactic science, and because it is not accompanied by scientific and scientific education.

Assessment issues of padded devices are very important. We currently have programs that enable us to deal with pedagogical constraints, but a systematic study of the benefits of usage is lacking.

Some authors indicate new ideas for the development of soft devices. For example, for Ball, Higgo, Oldknow, Straker and Wood [48] the padded device should enable students to internalize very important scientific concepts and apply them to solve concrete problems. This should also be flexible enough to enable students to create choices among the many exercises including and are still unique and easy to use even for the layman in computer science. On the other hand, Drivers, Squires, Rushworth and Hackling [49] view urgent articulation of content, their scientific rigor, and user interface.

VI Conclusion

The latest computer-based technologies have opened up new perspectives for teaching and learning science in general and physics in particular. Various techniques of using computers (data acquisition, modeling and simulation, multimedia, virtual reality and the Internet) enable diversification of strategies in teaching. Teachers have something new to deliver content and students have more ways to learn.

Usage mode that provides the most promising interactive learning format for learning science. The virtual reality, among the newer media, seems promising in this matter. We also try to put some of the AI technology  in website to build the chat automatically.

Evaluation works on the real effectiveness of the majority computing strategy is still not completed. It must be implemented to find a better perspective on the actual effects of computers in teaching. However, computer evaluation in this teaching can not be carried out separately. Naturally, technology alone is not tolerable (it’s never enough!). Teachers have an urgent role to play in creating this lucrative pedagogical tool and students, of course, effective learning efforts.