Could simulations replace physical manipulatives in early science education?
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of the use of simulations and the use of physical manipulatives on kindergarten students’ science learning during experimentation. According to the embodied cognition and additional (touch) sensory channel theories, touch sensory input could enhance the construction of knowledge. On the other hand, empirical research on simulation based learning has provided evidence showing that the use of PM, and thus touch sensory input, is not always a prerequisite for learning. In order to investigate whether simulations or PM are required for enhancing student science learning, we selected three science domains and compared students’ use of PM and simulations (VM) when experimenting in these three domains. The participants were 44 kindergarten students who were equally separated into two conditions (PM or VM). Data were collected through clinical interviews (one per domain per condition) and analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. No differences were found in the beam balance domain between the two conditions. In the sinking/floating domain, VM were found to be more conducive to student learning than PM, whereas in the springs domain, PM were found to enhance students learning more than VM. These findings point to the fact that PM, and thus touch sensory input, might not always be a requirement for science learning and that simulations could be considered, under certain circumstances, a viable means for experimentation.