Dynamic teaching through dynamic visualizations

Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo

Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo

“The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way.” —Marshall McLuhan

The world of education is deeply tied to the world of technology. As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan predicts in his 1962 work The Gutenberg Galaxy, computers are now used as enhanced tools for conducting research and connecting people all around the world. This has enabled educators worldwide to deliver lessons in new and creative ways. Dr. Kihyun (Kelly) Ryoo, Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, is particularly interested in improving these creative methods and studies ways to make them more efficient.

In a recent article, Can dynamic visualizations improve middle school students’ understanding of energy in photosynthesis? (2012), Dr. Ryoo and co-author Marcia Lynn explain that dynamic visualizations have the potential to make abstract scientific phenomena more accessible and visible to students. The authors also note, however, that these visualizations can also be confusing and difficult to comprehend.  In an effort to show how dynamic visualizations, as compared to static illustrations, can support middle school students in developing an integrated understanding of energy in photosynthesis, Ryoo and Linn studied 200 7th-grade students. These students completed a web-based inquiry unit that encourages students to make connections among energy concepts in photosynthesis.

Static vs. dynamic

When we hear the word static, we often think of a shock between our fingers and a metal object or how our clothes may embarrassingly cling together. However, a simple explanation of static is that which relates to something at rest or not in motion. So, a static illustration could be a picture we might see on a page in a textbook or on a wall in a science classroom. Dynamic, on the other hand, is related to things that are in motion.  So, a dynamic visualization could show what happens from start to finish in a chemical reaction through a computer simulation.

The 200 students Ryoo studied were randomly assigned to either a dynamic or a static web-based inquiry group. Her research found that students in the dynamic group were significantly more successful in articulating the process of energy transformation in the context of chemical reactions during photosynthesis. Students in the dynamic group also demonstrated a more integrated understanding of energy in photosynthesis by linking their ideas about energy transformation to other energy ideas and observable phenomena of photosynthesis than those students in the static condition.

Calling all science educators!

At LEARN NC, we believe that teachers can be researchers and that research should inform teaching. So, here are some ideas from Dr. Ryoo to kick-start your own dynamic visualization study:

  1. Explore an example of a dynamic visualization.
  2. Then, take a look at a static illustration of the same concept.
  3. Give students a pre-test on the material you want them to understand.
  4. Create your own animations (Scratch is a good place to start).
  5. Take screen shots of key concepts; create a static illustration.
  6. Have your students explore your visualizations, then complete a post-test.
  7. Report your results. You have the power!

Researcher bio

Dr. Ryoo received her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology Design with a specialization in Science Education from Stanford University, where she also earned her M.A. in Learning, Design and Technology. She received a bachelor’s degree in Health Education from Ewha Womans University in Korea. Her research focuses on the intersection of technology design, science education and culturally and linguistically diverse learners. She studies how the use of technology can support science teachers’ practice and scaffold diverse learners’ science learning.

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