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Simulating chaos: An evaluation of the driven pendulum experiment

By Eileen Scanlon, Shelagh Ross and Canan Tosunoglu


This paper reports on the use of the Driven Pendulum software as part of the teaching for the Open University course Discovering Physics and provides an account of some of the findings from its evaluation as part of the learning experience provided to students. A driven damped pendulum is a suitable instrument for experimental studies of chaotic motion. The main aim of the simulation was to allow students both to observe some of the generic features of chaotic motion, and to explore ways in which these may be represented graphically. This simulation formed the basis of a three‐hour experiment for students which provided them with a number of learning opportunities, e.g. the opportunity to build up state‐space trajectories for various types of pendulum motion, in order to appreciate the advantages of the state‐space representation for analysing complicated behaviour, and providing consolidation of ideas about oscillations, damping and resonance. An evaluation of the Driven Pendulum at the residential school in 1995 was conducted as part of a university‐wide project run by the Computers and Learning Research Group investigating computer use in learning science and technology, and developing evaluation methodologies. It was both formative in that the evaluation results were used to redesign the notes guiding students through the activities, and summative in that we were able to draw some conclusions about the role played by the simulation in students’ learning. The students were extremely positive about the contribution made to their learning by the program, and students’ performance indicated learning gains. However, the observation data suggested that students were unclear about the distinction between complex and chaotic behaviour

Topics: LB Theory and practice of education, LC1022 - 1022.25 Computer-assisted Education
Publisher: Universit of Wales Press
Year: 1997
DOI identifier: 10.1080/0968776970050110
OAI identifier:

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