;A conventional instructional method focuses on teachers presenting facts. The rigid learning method makes students feel difficult when learning natural sciences. Currently, scientific education has increasingly emphasized the importance of using an inquiry-based learning method to foster scientific literacy. This study used a student-centered method to design learning activities and employed computers to simulate scientific experiments in a classroom, enabling students to learn natural sciences by using an inquiry-based method. This study also used three course units (i.e., specific heat, pressure, and buoyancy) for second-year junior high school students as examples to explore students’ learning effectiveness and processes and their changes in scientific learning concepts when adopting the inquiry-based learning.
For the unit of specific heat, no significant difference in learning effectiveness was observed. Students actively participated in the class and understood the teacher’s conclusion at the end of an inquiry-based activity; however, the students did not present expected posttest results. For the unit of pressure, discussion about related concepts and topics was added to a learning sheet and learning procedures were modified to reduce students’ cognitive loads. The results showed that the learning effectiveness of the pressure unit significantly improved. Nevertheless, no significant difference in the learning effectiveness of the buoyancy unit was observed. This may be because the scientific concepts of this unit are complex and students did not have corresponding prior knowledge.
By analyzing students’ learning processes according to the learning sheet, in the unit of specific heat, most students lacked inquiry-based learning experience, were unfamiliar with the scientific simulation system, leading to numerous errors regarding data collection. In the pressure unit, students gradually improved their performance, particularly for the inquiry steps on scientific questions, and most students obtained a correct conclusion. For the buoyancy unit, most students’ performance was satisfactory regarding inquiry into simple scientific concepts; however, for inquiry into complex scientific questions, their experimental design was influenced because of insufficient prior knowledge; consequently, students did not present satisfactory performance on conclusions.
Following the three course units, students’ scientific learning concepts in the examination dimension significantly improved but no significant difference was observed in other dimensions. According to the interview results, students considered that knowledge acquired from classes helped them answer test questions and learning scientific concepts obtained through learning activities can help them score in a test.
Integration of scientific simulation into scientific learning courses for junior high school students requires preparations in advance including selection of topics for a course unit, design of a simulation system, course design, required hardware, and excellent internet connections. In addition, the teacher needs to have a class management ability to help smoothly undertake scientific simulation and inquiry activities.