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The term microworld implies that there is some form of worldness in students' learning in this software genre. This article develops a conceptual framework to analyze the sense in which the world metaphor may or may not hold. It also applies the framework to data of students interacting with one computer microworld. We consider three possible senses of the metaphor. In the strongest sense, the artifact qua microworld defines the realm within which the students are reasoning. In a weaker sense, the student constructs a world-like conceptual space. In the weakest sense of the metaphor, the software functions as a world only in the sense that it encourages the students' construction of inferences from one situation to another. We videotaped 12 physics-naive high school students interacting with Elmira, a computer microworld designed to foster students' reasoning about Relative Motion across a broad variety of combinations of motions (linear and/or circular). The finding that students were not constrained to the Relative Motion interpretation and the prevalence of alternative interpretations was inconsistent with the strongest sense of the metaphor. The weaker, constructed space sense of the microworld metaphor also appeared invalid here, in view of the students' flexible use of broad range of strategies based on fundamentally different representations and the weak connections between puzzle interpretation and problem-solving strategies. The low frequency of puzzles that the students related indicate a limited conceptualization of interconnectedness of the puzzles. This is not to say that the microworld was not successful, we believe it was: Learning did occur, and students came to interpret the microworld in accordance with the designer's intentions. We mean only to raise the question of whether it is appropriate to assume a world-like quality to students' reasoning within a microworld.
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