Gravel, B. & Wilkerson, M. H. (2017). Integrating computational artifacts into the multi-representational toolkit of physics education. In D. Treagust, R. Duit, & H. E. Fischer (Eds.), Multiple Representations in Physics Education. Springer. pp. 47-70. [PDF][Springer]
Computational artifacts can serve as important components of the multi-representational toolkit of physics. But like any representation, the meanings of computational models are far from transparent: they are embedded within social, symbolic, and material contexts. In this chapter, we present case studies of two different learning communities that each worked to adopt a participant-generated computational artifact as a shared representational tool that they used to communicate and reason about physical systems. In one, collaborating physicists and mathematicians used a Mathematica notebook to explore the behavior of liquid crystals. In the other, a fifth grade science class used a student-generated computer simulation to reason about the processes of evaporation and condensation. We show how both groups: (1) developed a shared understanding of the computational artifact as a representational tool, (2) leveraged the artifact to focus their attention on their respective goals, and (3) discussed the strengths and limitations of the architecture of the computational environment relative to those goals. We highlight similarities and differences in how professionals and students took up these computational artifacts as shared representations, and discuss instructional implications given the increasingly computational and multi-representational focus of K-12 science education.