Towards a learning progression of energy

Authors: Knut Neumann, Tobias Viering, William J. Boone, and Hans E. Fischer

Abstract: This article presents an empirical study on an initial learning progression of energy, a concept of central importance to the understanding of science. Learning progressions have been suggested as one vehicle to support the systematic and successful teaching of core science concepts. Ideally, a learning progression will provide teachers with a framework to assess students’ level of understanding of a core concept and to guide students towards a more sophisticated level of understanding. Taking existing research as a point of departure, developing a learning progression involves recurring cycles of empirical validation and theoretical refinement. In this article, we report about our efforts in working towards a learning progression of energy. First, we derived an initial learning progression by utilizing existing curriculum, research on students’ understanding, and development of students’ understanding of energy. Second, we used these sources of guidance to develop a robust measurement instrument, the Energy Concept Assessment (ECA), based on multiple choice questions. Third, we utilized this instrument to assess the understanding of N ¼ 1,856 students from three different grade levels, Grades 6, 8, and 10. Findings provided evidence that students from Grade 6 mostly obtain an understanding of energy forms and energy sources. Students of Grade 8 additionally demonstrate an understanding of energy transfer and transformation, whereas only students of Grade 10, and then only some of these students, achieve a deeper understanding of energy conservation. We discuss the implications of our findings against the background of existing research on students understanding of energy. Finally, further steps in working towards a learning progression of energy are identified.

Keywords: learning progression; energy; assessment; conceptual change; conceptual growth; Rasch measurement

Publication: Journal of Research in Science Teaching download pdf