Teaching Energy Across the Sciences, K–12

TeachingEnergyStudents’ experiences with hearing and using the term energy to describe everyday events give them a very intuitive sense of what energy is and how it behaves. Those feelings, however, are often at odds with school science instruction. After years of seeing batteries die or being asked to turn off the lights to save energy, their science teacher may tell them that energy is never used up and that energy is always conserved, no matter what they do!

When classroom instruction seems to conflict with—rather than clarify—their intuitive ideas about energy, students struggle to develop a strong and self-consistent understanding of the energy concept that is useful for interpreting phenomena and events across in-school and out-of-school contexts.

Intentionally designed instruction can help ensure that students develop a set of connected ideas that are applicable in a wide range of contexts. Although the energy tools that scientists use in different contexts can look very different from one another, the Next Generation Science Standards assert that we can no longer accept teaching energy in a way that does not show students how energy ideas are connected across scientific disciplines. Although the NGSS provide a robust set of recommendations for teaching energy in today’s schools, they do not provide specific pedagogical approaches or advocate for particular instructional materials.

In Teaching Energy Across the Sciences, K–12, editor Jeffrey Nordine gathers a set of ideas that surfaced at two international summits where teachers, science educators, and scientists shared lesson ideas and clarified insights for teaching energy in grades K–12 that exemplify the recommendations in the NGSS.

In the book, Nordine presents a set of Five Big Ideas that can help students think about energy-related phenomena in a consistent way across disciplines. Teachers from elementary school through high school can help students develop an ever-increasing understanding of energy with these Five Big Ideas about energy:

  • Big Idea 1. All energy is fundamentally the same, and it can be manifested in different phenomena that are often referred to as different “forms” or “types.”
  • Big Idea 2. Energy can be transformed/converted from one form/type to another.
  • Big Idea 3. Energy can be transferred between systems and objects.
  • Big Idea 4. Energy is conserved. It is never created or destroyed, only transformed/converted or transferred.
  • Big Idea 5. Energy is dissipated in all macroscopic (involving more than just a few particles) processes.

These Big Ideas can clarify—rather than complicate—your existing energy instruction. By keeping these ideas in mind when designing energy instruction, teachers can put students in a much better position to understand the crosscutting nature of the energy concept and provide them with a consistent lens through which to interpret energy-related contexts that they encounter both in school and their everyday lives.

The book is divided into three sections: Section 1 is dedicated to unpacking the scientific concept of energy; Section 2 presents approaches to teaching energy; and Section 3 is primarily written for those who support classroom teachers.

Intended to serve as a resource for classroom teachers, Teaching Energy Across the Sciences, K–12 can also spur conversations among a range of educators who are responding to the instructional imperatives described by the NGSS.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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