Employing Physical Computing in Education: How Teachers and Students can use Physical Computing and Interactive Manipulatives in Education

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Physical computing (O’Sullivan, 2004) and human-computer interaction explore how sensors and interactive technology could further user experiences, moving the educational technology experience away from the typical computer screen. Physical computing is specifically intriguing as an educational tool because of its linking of the physical and virtual environments and frameworks, making the connection between the “real” world and the virtual one concrete and viable. This tangible connection can allow students to see the associations between, for example, graphs of time and distance, with an object (constructed or everyday) in the actual environment outside of the computer, creating a symbiotic relationship between the real and the representational. As such, students can make meaning of the symbols and decontextualized knowledge used to convey an objects properties and characteristics through its virtual and physical connection. A survey of research on constructivist and constructionist concepts supports the idea that physical computing could help support classroom learning.


Keywords: Physical Computing, Human Computer Interaction, Physical Manipulatives, Interactive Technology, Educational Technology, Constructivism, Constructionism, Papert, Piaget, Bruner
Stream: Technology in Education
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Employing Physical Computing in Education,


Gabriela T. Richard

Doctoral Candidate, Educational Communication and Technology Program 
Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development
Division of Educational Informatics, NYU School Of Medicine

New York, NY, USA

In 2001, Gabriela Richard began working at the Division of Educational Informatics (DEI) (formerly, Advanced Educational Systems) at the NYU School of Medicine, where she assisted with educational technology development and research. During this time, she received her M.P.S. from the Interactive Telecommunications Program (the birthplace of Physical Computing), which sparked her interest in examining it as an instructional tool. In 2004 and 2005, she initiated three pilot programs at DEI, under the guidance of her supervisor, Dr. Nachbar, which sought to teach physical computing to high school students and teachers to examine its efficacy as a means of developing learner-generated materials or teacher-designed learning objects. In 2005, DEI and the Institute for Schools of the Future teamed up to start a city-wide physical computing educational program aimed at high school teachers. They received a 3-year ITEST grant for implementation from the National Science Foundation. Gabriela Richard continued to design curriculum, coordinate, instruct and implement program activities for the grant. In Fall 2006, she was accepted as a doctoral student at the Educational Communication and Technology program at NYU. She received a 3-year pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation in Fall 2007 to study physical computing in education.

Ref: T08P0094