This paper develops a theoretical framework for a modeling process that integrates computer simulations with first-hand experiments and computer-based analysis tools. This modelling approach is then linked to the extensive body of research on students’ conceptions about force; it is argued that model building holds great potential to facilitate conceptual change through enabling students to make explicit and test their own hypotheses. Using this modeling approach, a curriculum unit that presented four tasks for investigating the forces involved in accelerated motion down an inclined plane was developed and implemented in a secondary school classroom. The results of studying a group of three students as they progressed through this unit illuminate the tradeoffs among experiment, simulation and analysis, while demonstrating that students are likely to pursue alternative hypotheses and diverse representations as they build a more complete model over an extended period of time.
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