Technology, Knowledge and Learning

, Volume 17, Issue 1–2, pp 23–42 | Cite as

From Agents to Continuous Change via Aesthetics: Learning Mechanics with Visual Agent-based Computational Modeling

  • Pratim Sengupta
  • Amy Voss Farris
  • Mason Wright


Novice learners find motion as a continuous process of change challenging to understand. In this paper, we present a pedagogical approach based on agent-based, visual programming to address this issue. Integrating agent-based programming, in particular, Logo programming, with curricular science has been shown to be challenging in previous research on educational computing. We present a new Logo-based visual programming language—ViMAP—and, a sequence of learning activities involving programming and modeling, designed specifically to support seamless integration between programming and learning kinematics. We describe relevant affordances of the ViMAP environment that supports such seamless integration. We then present ViMAP-MoMo, a curricular unit designed in ViMAP for modeling kinematics, for a wide range of students (elementary—high school). Finally, we describe in detail a sequence of learning activities in three phases, discuss the underlying rationale for each phase, and where relevant, report results in the form of observational data from two studies.


Visual programming Multi-agent-based modeling Mechanics Physics education Learning sciences NetLogo ViMAP Agent-based modeling Computational thinking 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of Wilson Hubbell and Gokul Krishnan for sharing and working with important ideas during formative stages of this work. The first author would especially like to thank Rich Lehrer for encouraging this work since its ideation. Partial financial support was provided by Vanderbilt University and two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF IIS # 1124175 and NSF CAREER OCI # 1150230).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pratim Sengupta
    • 1
  • Amy Voss Farris
    • 1
  • Mason Wright
    • 1
  1. 1.Mind, Matter & Media LabVanderbilt University, Peabody CollegeNashvilleUSA

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