The Comparative Effects of a Computer-based Interactive Simulation During Structured, Guided, and Student-directed Inquiry on Students’ Mental Models of the Day/Night Cycle
"This study compared middle school (i.e., fifth, sixth and seventh grade) students’ mental models of the day/night cycle before and after implementation of three inquiry- based treatments. The three treatments were classified as 1) structured inquiry, 2) guided inquiry, and 3) student-directed inquiry. All three treatments used Starry Night Middle School interactive simulation software to investigate the phenomenon of the day/night cycle. Additionally, all three treatments were based on two researcher-developed lessons using Starry Night Middle School.
The participants were 145 fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students who were purposively selected from a public school in a U.S. state. For the purpose of this study, the students remained in their classrooms. There were three classrooms per grade level. Those classrooms were randomly assigned to one of the three treatments.
Students’ scores on a pretest, immediate posttest, and delayed posttest were analyzed. Students from a purposive sample were interviewed after the pretest, immediate posttest, and delayed posttest to clarify student mental models of the day/night cycle. The students were chosen based upon their score on the multiple-choice test. Seven of the selected students were in the Structured Inquiry group. Eleven of the selected students were in the Guided Inquiry group. Five of the selected students were in the Student-directed Inquiry group.
First, the comparative effects of Structured Inquiry, Guided Inquiry, and Student- directed Inquiry on middle school students’ mental models of the day/night cycle immediately and three months following the intervention revealed no statistical difference among the three treatments. Time, however, appeared to have a significant negative effect on students’ mental models of the day/night cycle. Second, inquiry groups did not differ significantly in their mental models. Third, there was no interaction between starting mental model and the type of inquiry. The major findings demonstrate that all three treatments promote learning, but that no one treatment is more effective than another."