Pre-service Elementary School Teachers’ Ability to Account for the Operation of Simple Physical Systems Using the Energy Conservation Law

Abstract

Energy is recognized as a core idea in science and, hence, a significant learning objective of science education. The effective promotion of this learning objective posits that teachers themselves possess sound conceptual understanding. This is needed for enabling them to organize effective learning environments for their students. In this study, we report on the results of an empirical investigation of teachers’ understanding of energy. In particular, the focus is placed on pre-service teachers’ ability to employ energy as a framework for analyzing the operation of physical systems. We have collected data from 198 pre-service teachers through three open-ended tasks that involved the application of the energy conservation principle to simple physical systems. The results corroborate the claim made in the literature that teachers typically do not possess functional, coherent understanding of this principle. Most importantly, the data serve to identify and document specific difficulties that hamper attempts to use energy for the analysis of the operation of physical systems. The difficulties we were able to document lend support to the idea that it is important to introduce the idea of energy degradation alongside the conservation of energy principle. The findings of this study have implications for the design of preparation programs for teachers, about energy. The findings also provide insights into the limitations of conventional teaching of energy, to which the participants had been exposed as students, in fostering coherent understanding of energy conservation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. AAAS. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Arons, A. (1999). Development of energy concepts in introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 67, 1063–1067.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Burgoon, J. N., Heddle, M. L., & Duran, E. (2010). Re-examining the similarities between teacher and student conceptions about physical science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 21, 859–872.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chen, R. F., Eisenkraft, A., Fortus, D., Krajcik, J., Neumann, K., Nordine, J. C., & Scheff, A. (Eds.). (2014). Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 Education. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Constantinou, C. P., & Papadouris, N. (2012). Teaching and learning about energy in middle school: An argument for an epistemic approach. Studies in Science Education, 48, 161–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Driver, R., & Warrington, L. (1985). Students’ use of the principle of energy conservation in problem situations. Physics Education, 20, 171–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Duit, R. (1984). Learning the energy concept in school—empirical results from the Philippines and West Germany. Physics Education, 19(2), 59–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Duschl, R. Α., Schweingruber, Η. Α., & Shouse, Α. W. (Eds.). (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Field, A. (2005). Discovering statistics using SPSS for window (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Gess-Newsome, J., & Lederman, N. G. (1995). Biology teachers’ perceptions of subject matter structure and its relationship to classroom practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32, 301–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Harlen, W., & Halroyd, C. (1997). Primary teachers’ understandings of concepts of science: Impact on confidence and teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 19, 93–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hinrichs, R., & Kleinbach, M. (2002). Energy: Its use and the environment. USA: Thomson Learning.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Holton, G., & Brush, G. S. (2001). Physics, the human adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and beyond (3rd ed.). USA: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kesidou, S., & Duit, R. (1993). Students’ conceptions of the second law of thermodynamics—An interpretive study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30, 85–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Krall, R. M., Lott, K. H., & Wymer, L. C. (2009). Inservice elementary and middle School teachers’ conceptions of photosynthesis and respiration. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 20, 41–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kruger, C. (1990). Some primary teachers’ ideas about energy. Physics Education, 25, 86–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kruger, C., Palacio, D., & Summers, M. (1992). Surveys of English primary teachers’ conceptions of force, energy and materials. Science Education, 76, 339–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Liu, X., & McKeough, A. (2005). Developmental growth in students’ concept of energy: Analysis of selected items from TIMSS database. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 493–517.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1997). Learning and awareness. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  20. McDermott, L. C. (1991). What we teach and what is learned: Closing the gap. American Journal of Physics, 59, 301–315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. McDermott, L. C., Heron, P. R. L., Shaffer, P. S., & Stetzer, M. R. (2006). Improving the preparation of K-12 teachers through physics education research. American Journal of Physics, 74, 763–767.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. McDermott, L. C., & Shaffer, P. (1992). Research as a guide for curriculum development: An example from introductory electricity. Part I: Investigation of students understanding. American Journal of Physics, 60, 994–1003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Millar, R. (2000). Energy. In D. Sang (Ed.), Teaching secondary physics (pp. 1–43). London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  24. National Commission of Science and Mathematics Teaching for the 21st Century. (2000). Before it’s too late: A report to the nation from the national commission on mathematics and science teaching for the 21st century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

  25. National Research Council. (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 Science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. National Research Council. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Papadouris, N., & Constantinou, C. P. (2011). A philosophically informed teaching proposal on the topic of energy for students aged 11–14. Science and Education, 20, 961–979.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Papageorgiou, G., Stamovlasis, D., & Johnson, P. (2013). Primary teachers’ understanding of four chemical phenomena: Effect of an in-service training course. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 24, 763–787.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Portides, P. D. (2007). The relations between idealization and approximation in scientific model construction. Science & Education, 16, 699–724.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Rice, D. C. (2005). I didn’t know oxygen could boil! What preservice and inservice elementary teachers’ answers to ‘‘simple’’ science questions reveals about their subject matter knowledge. International Journal of Science Education, 27, 1059–1082.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Saderholm, J., & Tretter, T. R. (2008). Identification of the most critical content knowledge base for middle school science teachers. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 19, 269–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1–22.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Smith, J. P., diSessa, A. A., & Roschelle, J. (1993). Misconceptions reconceived: A constructivist analysis of knowledge in transition. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3, 115–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Solomon, J. (1985). Teaching the conservation of energy. Physics Education, 20, 165–170.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Solomon, J. (1992). Getting to know about energy: In school and in society. London: Falmer Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Summers, M., Kruger, C., Mant, J., & Childs, A. (1998). Developing primary teachers’ understanding of energy efficiency. Educational Research, 40, 311–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Tobin, R. G., Crissman, S., Doubler, S., Gallagher, H., Goldstein, G., Lacy, S., & Wagoner, P. (2012). Teaching teachers about energy: Lessons from an inquiry-based workshop for K-8 teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21, 631–639.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Trumper, R. (1998). A longitudinal study of physics students’ conceptions on energy in pre-service training for high school teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 7, 311–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Van Driel, J. H., Verloop, N., & de Vos, W. (1998). Developing science teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 673–695.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Wandersee, H. H., Mintzes, J. J., & Novak, D. J. (1994). Research on alternative conceptions in science. In D. L. Gabel (Ed.), Handbook on research on science teaching and learning (pp. 177–210). New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Wilson, M. (2004). Constructing measures: An item response modeling approach. UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Wright, S. P., Horn, S. P., & Sanders, W. L. (1997). Teacher and classroom context effects on student achievement: Implications for teacher evaluation. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 11, 57–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The study reported in this paper is part of the Projects EKTEMA and EPIKOITE, which were funded by the Cyprus Research Foundation through the Programs PENEK20/02 and ENISX/0504/15, respectively.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nicos Papadouris.

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Papadouris, N., Hadjigeorgiou, A. & Constantinou, C.P. Pre-service Elementary School Teachers’ Ability to Account for the Operation of Simple Physical Systems Using the Energy Conservation Law. J Sci Teacher Educ 25, 911–933 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10972-014-9407-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Energy
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Teachers’ education