Students’ Energy Concepts at the Transition Between Primary and Secondary School

TitleStudents’ Energy Concepts at the Transition Between Primary and Secondary School
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsOpitz, ST, Harms, U, Neumann, K, Kowalzik, K, Frank, A
JournalResearch in Science Education
Start Page691
Date Published10/2015
KeywordsBiology, Core Idea, Crosscutting Concept, Energy, Interdisciplinary Learning, learning progression
AbstractEnergy is considered both a core idea and a crosscutting concept in science education. A thorough understanding of the energy concept is thought to help students learn about other (related) concepts within and across science subjects, thereby fostering scientific literacy. This study investigates students’ progression in understanding the energy concept in biological contexts at the transition from primary to lower secondary school by employing a quantitative, cross-sectional study in grades 3–6 (N = 540) using complex multiple-choice items. Based on a model developed in a previous study, energy concepts were assessed along four aspects of energy: (1) forms and sources of energy, (2) transfer and transformation, (3) degradation and dissipation, and (4) energy conservation. Two parallel test forms (A and B) indicated energy concept scores to increase significantly by a factor of 2.3 (A)/1.7 (B) from grade 3 to grade 6. Students were observed to progress in their understanding of all four aspects of the concept and scored highest on items for energy forms. The lowest scores and the smallest gain across grades were found for energy conservation. Based on our results, we argue that despite numerous learning opportunities, students lack a more integrated understanding of energy at this stage, underlining the requirement of a more explicit approach to teaching energy to young learners. Likewise, more interdisciplinary links for energy learning between relevant contexts in each science discipline may enable older students to more efficiently use energy as a tool and crosscutting concept with which to analyze complex content.