From scales to microscopes, technology in many forms plays an integral role in most high school laboratory experiences. Over the past two decades, personal computers have enabled the development of software specifically designed to help students learn science, and the Internet is an increasingly used tool for science learning and for science itself. This section examines the role that computer technologies now and may someday play in science learning in relation to laboratory experiences. Certain uses of computer technology can be seen as laboratory experiences themselves, according to the committee’s definition, to the extent that they allow students to interact with data drawn directly from the world. Other uses, less clearly laboratory experiences in themselves, provide certain features that aid science learning.
Researchers and science educators have developed a number of software programs to support science learning in various ways. In this section, we summarize what we see as the main ways in which computer software can support science learning through providing or augmenting laboratory experiences.
Perhaps the most common form of science education software are programs that enable students to interact with carefully crafted models of natural phenomena that are difficult to see and understand in the real world and have proven historically difficult for students to understand. Such programs are able to show conceptual interrelationships and connections between theoretical constructs and natural phenomena through the use of multiple, linked representations. For example, velocity can be linked to acceleration and position in ways that make the interrelationships understandable to students (Roschelle, Kaput, and Stroup, 2000). Chromosome genetics can be linked to changes in pedigrees and populations (Horowitz, 1996). Molecular chemical representations can be linked to chemical equations (Kozma, 2003).
In the ThinkerTools integrated instructional unit, abstracted representations of force and motion are provided for students to help them “see” such ideas as force, acceleration, and velocity in two dimensions (White, 1993; White and Frederiksen, 1998). Objects in the ThinkerTools microworld are represented as simple, uniformly sized “dots” to avoid students becoming confused about the idea of center of mass. Students use the microworld to solve various problems of motion in one or two dimensions, using the com-