There has been considerable research concerning peer interaction and the acquisition of children's scientific reasoning. This study investigated differences in collaborative activity between pairs of children working around a computer with pairs of children working with physical apparatus and related any differences to the development of children's scientific reasoning. Children aged between 9 and 10 years old (48 boys and 48 girls) were placed into either same ability or mixed ability pairs according to their individual, pre-test performance on a scientific reasoning task. These pairs then worked on either a computer version or a physical version of Inhelder and Piaget's (1958) chemical combination task. Type of presentation was found to mediate the nature and type of collaborative activity. The mixed-ability pairs working around the computer talked proportionally more about the task and management of the task; had proportionally more transactive discussions and used the record more productively than children working with the physical apparatus. Type of presentation was also found to mediated children's learning. Children in same ability pairs who worked with the physical apparatus improved significantly more than same ability pairs who worked around the computer. These findings were partially predicted from a socio-cultural theory and show the importance of tools for mediating collaborative activity and collaborative learning
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