Teaching and learning about energy in middle school: An argument for an epistemic approach
AuthorConstantinou, Constaninos P.
SourceStudies in Science Education
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We have reviewed the existing literature on teaching and learning about energy to develop an overview of the ongoing debate on conceptual aspects of the construct and also to highlight the issues that have emerged in approaches to designing teaching-learning sequences. Our review is informed by those aspects of the historical evolution of the construct of energy that reveal the significance of this topic for science education, and the ongoing debate in science education research about the relevance of energy forms and causal explanatory thinking as features of the use of energy in systems analysis. We elaborate briefly on the distinction between mechanisms and causes, and we outline why energy can only be used as a framework for mechanistic descriptions of system behaviour and not for causal explanations. Drawing on our review, we present an argument for introducing energy as a theoretical framework in the age range of 11-14 years. We illustrate this epistemic approach by outlining in brief the skeletal structure of an activity sequence. The main features of this proposed approach include the use of theories to create models of phenomena, the distinction between states and processes, and the unifying and transphenomenological nature of energy as an interpretive framework. We analyse how this approach responds to the major challenges identified in the science education research literature concerning the teaching and learning of energy. In justifying this proposed approach, we draw on the epistemology of science and also on the detailed results of the broad range of existing studies on this topic from science education research. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.