Students' progressing understanding of the energy concept : an analysis of learning in biological and cross-disciplinary contexts

Energy has been considered a core concept in all school science subjects. Due to its wide-spread application, the concept has been introduced to science standards internationally to foster a more coherent science understanding. Several studies have addressed students’ understanding of energy at different ages, often pointing out their insufficient understanding of this complex concept. Despite its notable potential for interdisciplinary learning, few studies have focused on energy learning beyond physics contexts. To address this open field, this project encompasses three explorative studies focusing on students’ progression in energy understanding in biological and cross-disciplinary contexts. Study 1 (MC-questionnaire, cross-sectional design, grades 3-6) focuses on energy learning in biological contexts prior to explicit energy instruction in physics. Results indicate that primary students significantly progress in their understanding of energy as they encounter early energy learning opportunities. Studies 2 and 3 (MC-questionnaire, cross-sectional design, grades 6, 8, 10) address energy learning during and after the concept’s explicit introduction in secondary schools. In this study, energy-items from physics and chemistry were introduced besides items from biology. Structural differences in energy understanding across disciplinary boundaries were tested on the basis of hypothesized progression scenarios. The findings indicate that, even though students’ knowledge about the energy concept increases quantitatively in all three subjects, the structure of their understanding remains a cross-disciplinary energy understanding at all analyzed grade levels. Finally, study 3 uses a qualitative study (interview analysis, grades 5, 7, 9, and 11) as a mixed-methods approach to deepen the findings from the quantitative studies 1 and 2. The final chapter of the dissertation discusses limitations of these studies, as well as implications for the teaching and assessment of energy as a major disciplinary core idea and crosscutting concept in science education.



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