The impact of microcomputer-based labs on children's ability to interpret graphs



Graphing represents a key symbol system for scientific communication. Widely-reported low graphing skills notwithstanding, middle school students can learn to communicate with graphs in the context of appropriate microcomputer-based laboratory (MBL) investigations. Two preliminary studies and a longitudinal study are reported that support this conclusion. In the three-month longitudinal study of MBL, students showed a significant gain on 16 graphing items, even though the instruction targeted science topics, not graphing skills. The first preliminary study attempted to locate graph-related misconceptions. Although graph-as-picture errors and slope/height confusions were identified, the ease with which MBL removes these problems calls into question the appropriateness of labeling them misconceptions. Four features of MBL seem to contribute to its success in facilitating graphical communication: MBL uses multiple modalities; it pairs, in real time, events with their symbolic graphical representations; it provides genuine scientific experiences; and it eliminates the drudgery of graph production.