Energy is considered both as a disciplinary core idea and as a concept cutting across science disciplines. Most previous approaches studied progressing energy understanding in specific disciplinary contexts, while disregarding the relation of understanding across them. Hence, this study provides a systematic analysis of cross-disciplinary energy learning. On the basis of a cross-sectional study with n = 742 students from grades 6, 8, and 10, we analyze students’ progression in understanding energy across biology, chemistry, and physics contexts. The study is guided by three hypothetical scenarios that describe how the connection between energy understanding in the three disciplinary contexts changes across grade levels. These scenarios are compared using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The results suggest that, from grade 6 to grade 10, energy understanding in the three disciplinary contexts is highly interrelated, thus indicating a parallel progression of energy understanding in the three disciplinary contexts. In our study, students from grade 6 onwards appeared to have few problems to apply one energy understanding across the three disciplinary contexts. These findings were unexpected, as previous research concluded that students likely face difficulties in connecting energy learning across disciplinary boundaries. Potential reasons for these results and the characteristics of the observed cross-disciplinary energy understanding are discussed in the light of earlier findings and implications for future research, and the teaching of energy as a core idea and a crosscutting concept are addressed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alonzo, A. C., & Gotwals, A. W. (2012). Learning progressions in science-current challenges and future directions. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Barak, J., Gorodetsky, M., & Chipman, D. (1997). Understanding of Energy in Biology and Vitalistic Conceptions. International Journal of Science Education, 19(1), 21–30.
Bond, T. G., & Fox, C. M. (2001). Applying the Rasch model: fundamental measurement in the human sciences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc..
Boyes, E., & Stanisstreet, M. (1991). Misconceptions in first-year undergraduate science students about energy sources for living organisms. Journal of Biological Education, 25(3), 209–213.
Boylan, C. (2008). Exploring elemantary students’ understanding of energy and climate change. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 1(1), 1–15.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Burger, J. (2001). Schülervorstellungen zu "Energie im biologischen Kontext"—Ermittlungen, Analysen und Schlussfolgerungen [Student conceptions on energy in biological contexts—assessment, analyses and conclusions]. Doctoral dissertation, Univeristy of Bielefeld, Germany. Available at: https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/publication/2305865
Chabalengula, V., Sanders, M., & Mumba, F. (2011). Diagnosing students’ understanding of energy and its related concepts in biological contexts. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10(2), 241–266.
Chen, B., Eisenkraft, A., Fortus, D., Krajcik, J. S., Neumann, K., Nordine, J., & Scheff, A. (2014). Teaching and Learning of Energy in K-12 Education. New York: Springer.
Clark, D., & Linn, M. C. (2003). Designing for knowledge integration: the impact of instructional time. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(4), 451–493. doi:10.1207/s15327809jls1204_1.
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(2), 161–186.
Cooper, M. M., Klymkowsky, M. W., & Becker, M. (2014). Energy in chemical systems. an integrated approach. In R. F. Chen, A. Eisenkraft, D. Fortus, J. S. Krajcik, K. Neumann, J. Nordine, & A. Scheff (Eds.), Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. New York: Springer.
Dauer, J. M., Miller, H. K., & Anderson, C. W. (2014). Conservation of energy: an analytical tool for student accounts of carbon-transforming processes. In R. F. Chen, A. Eisenkraft, D. Fortus, J. S. Krajcik, K. Neumann, J. Nordine, & A. Scheff (Eds.), Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. New York: Springer.
Doménech, J., Gil-Pérez, D., Gras-Martí, A., Guisasola, J., Martínez-Torregrosa, J., Salinas, J., et al. (2007). Teaching of energy issues: a debate proposal for a global reorientation. Science and Education, 16(1), 43–64.
Dreyfuß, B. W., Redish, E. F., and Watkins, J. (2012). Students’ views of macroscopic and microscopic energy in physics and biology. Paper presented at the AIP Conference, Proceedings, 1413.
Driver, R., Squires, A., Rushworth, P., & Wood-Robinson, V. (1994). Making sense of secondary science: supporting material for secondary teachers. London: Routledge.
Driver, R., & Warrington, L. (1985). Students' use of the principle of energy conservation in problem situations. Physics Education, 20(4), 171.
Duschl, R. A. (2012). The second dimension—crosscutting concepts understanding a framework for K–12 science education. Science Teacher, 79(2), 34–38.
Eisenkraft, A., Nordine, J., Chen, R. F., Fortus, D., Krajcik, J. S., Neumann, K., & Scheff, A. (2014). Introduction: why focus on energy instruction? In R. F. Chen, A. Eisenkraft, D. Fortus, J. S. Krajcik, K. Neumann, J. Nordine, & A. Scheff (Eds.), Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. New York: Springer.
Fortus, D., & Krajcik, J. (2012). Curriculum coherence and learning progressions. In B. J. Fraser, K. Tobin, & C. J. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (Vol. 24, pp. 783–798). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
Fortus, D., Sutherland Adams, L. M., Krajcik, J. S., & Reiser, B. J. (2015). Assessing the role of curriculum coherence in student learning about energy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(10), 1408–1425.
Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6(1), 1–55. doi:10.1080/10705519909540118.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2013). Climate change 2013. The physical science basis-working group I. Contribution to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jin, H., & Anderson, C. W. (2012). A learning progression for energy in socio-ecological systems. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(9), 1149–1180.
Kirk, R. E. (1996). Practical significance: a concept whose time has come. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 56(5), 746–759. doi:10.1177/0013164496056005002.
Kline, R. (2011). Principles and Practice of Structural Equation Modeling (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
KMK [Ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland]. (2005a). Bildungsstandards im Fach Biologie für den Mittleren Schulabschluss-Beschluss vom 16.12.2004 [science standards for middle school biology, germany]. München, Germany: Luchterhand.
KMK [Ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland]. (2005b). Bildungsstandards im Fach Chemie für den Mittleren Schulabschluss: Beschluss vom 16.12.2004 [science standards for middle school chemistry, Germany]. München, Germany: Luchterhand.
KMK [Ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland]. (2005c). Bildungsstandards im Fach Physik für den Mittleren Schulabschluss Beschluss vom 16.12.2004. [Science standards for middle school physics, Germany]. München, Germany: Luchterhand.
Krajcik, J. S., Chen, B., Eisenkraft, A., Fortus, D., Neumann, K., Nordine, J., & Scheff, A. (2014). Conclusion and summary comments: teaching energy and associated research effort. In R. F. Chen, A. Eisenkraft, D. Fortus, J. S. Krajcik, K. Neumann, J. Nordine, & A. Scheff (Eds.), Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. New York: Springer.
Kurnaz, M. A., & Sağlam-Arslan, A. (2011). A thematic review of some studies investigating students’ alternative conceptions about energy. Eurasian Journal of Chemistry and Physics Education, 3(1), 51–74.
Lacy, S., Tobin, R., Wiser, M., & Crissman, S. (2014). Looking through the energy lens: a proposed learning progression for energy in grades 3–5. In R. F. Chen, A. Eisenkraft, D. Fortus, J. S. Krajcik, K. Neumann, J. Nordine, & A. Scheff (Eds.), Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. New York: Springer.
Lancor, R. A. (2014). Using student-generated analogies to investigate conceptions of energy: a multidisciplinary study. International Journal of Science Education, 36(1), 1–23. doi:10.1080/09500693.2012.714512.
Lancor, R. A. (2015). An analysis of metaphors used by students to describe energy in an interdisciplinary general science course. International Journal of Science Education, 37(5–6), 876–902. doi:10.1080/09500693.2015.1025309.
Lee, H.-S., & Liu, O. L. (2009). Assessing learning progression of energy concepts across middle school grades: the knowledge integration perspective. Science Education, 94(4), 665–688.
Lerner, R. G., & Trigg, G. L. (2005). Encyclopedia of Physics Volume 1 (A-L). Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH.
Lindsey, B. A., Heron, P. R. L., & Shaffler, P. S. (2012). Student understanding of energy: difficulties related to systems. American Journal of Physics, 80(2), 154–163.
Linn, M. C., Lewis, C., Tsuchida, I., & Songer, N. B. (2000). Beyond fourth grade science: why do U.S. and Japanese students diverge? Educational Researcher, 29(3), 4–14.
Liu, X., & McKeough, A. (2005). Developmental growth in students' concept of energy: analysis of selected items from the TIMSS database. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(5), 493–517.
Liu, X., & Ruiz, M. E. (2008). Using data mining to predict K–12 students' performance on large-scale assessment items related to energy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(5), 554–573.
Liu, X., & Tang, L. (2004). The progression of students' conceptions of energy: a cross-grade, cross-cultural study. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 4(1), 43–57.
Liu, O. L., Ryoo, K., Linn, M., Sato, E., & Svihla, V. (2015). Measuring knowledge integration learning of energy topics: a two-year longitudinal study. International Journal of Science Education. doi:10.1080/09500693.2015.1016470.
Messick, S. (1995). Validity of psychological assessment: validation of inferences from persons’ responses and performances as scientific inquiry into score meaning. American Psychologist, 50(9), 741–749.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2012). MPlus- Statistical Analysis with Latent Variables, Users Guide (7th edition ed.). Los Angeles, CA.
Nagel, M. L., & Lindsey, B. A. (2014). Student use of energy concepts from physics in chemistry courses. Chemistry Education Research and Practice. doi:10.1039/c4rp00184b.
National Research Council [NRC]. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
Neumann, K., & Nagy, G. (2013). Students’ progression in understanding energy. Paper presented at the NARST annual international conference. Rio Grande: Puerto Rico.
Neumann, K., Viering, T., Boone, W. J., & Fischer, H. E. (2013). Towards a learning progression of energy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50(2), 162–188.
Opitz, S., Harms, U., Neumann, K., Kowalzik, K., & Frank, A. (2015). Students’ energy concepts at the transition between primary and secondary school. Research in Science Education, 49(5), 691–715. doi:10.1007/s11165-014-9444-8.
Opitz, S., Neumann, K., Bernholt, S., & Harms, U. (2016). Energy—a crosscutting concept? The structure of students’ progressing energy understanding in biology, chemistry and physics, In S.T. Opitz, Students’ Progressing Understanding of the Energy Concept: An Analysis of Learning in Biological and Cross-Disciplinary Contexts (pp. 66–92). Doctoral thesis: University of Kiel/Germany Available at: http://macau.uni-kiel.de/receive/dissertation_diss_00019005.
Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS]. (2013). Next generation science standards—for states, by states. Washington: National Academic Press.
Nordine, J., Krajcik, J., & Fortus, D. (2010). Transforming energy instruction in middle school to support integrated understanding and future learning. Science Education, 95(4), 670–699.
Novak, J. D. (2005). Results and implications of a 12-year longitudinal study of science concept learning. Research in Science Education, 35(1), 23–40.
Park, M., & Liu, X. (2016). Assessing understanding of the energy concept in different science disciplines. Science Education, 100(3), 483–516. doi:10.1002/sce.21211.
Schmidt, W. H., Wang, H. C., & McKnight, C. C. (2005). Curriculum coherence: an examination of US mathematics and science content standards from an international perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(5), 525–559.
Shwartz, Y., Weizman, A., Fortus, D., Krajcik, J., & Reiser, B. (2008). The IQWST experience: Using coherence as a design principle for a middle school science curriculum. Elementary School Journal, 109, 199–219.
Stacy, A. M., Chang, K., Coonrod, J., & Claesgens, J. (2014). Launching the space shuttle by making water: the chemist’s view of energy. In R. F. Chen, A. Eisenkraft, D. Fortus, J. S. Krajcik, K. Neumann, J. Nordine, & A. Scheff (Eds.), Teaching and learning of energy in K-12 education. New York: Springer.
Trumper, R. (1997). Applying conceptual conflict strategies in the learning of the energy concept. Research in Science and Technological Education, 15(1), 5–18.
van de Schoot, R., Lugtig, P., & Hox, J. (2012). Developmetrics: a checklist for testing measurement invariance. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, iFirst article, 1–7. doi:10.1080/17405629.2012.686740.
van Hook, S., & Huziak-Clark, T. (2008). Lift, squeeze, stretch, and twist: research-based inquiry physics experiences (RIPE) of energy for kindergartners. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 20(3), 1–16.
Watts, D. M. (1983). Some alternative views of energy. Physics Education, 18(5), 213.
Wernecke, U., Schwanewedel, J., Schuette, K., & Harms, U. (2016). Wie wird Energie im Biologieschulbuch dargestellt?—Entwicklung eines Kategoriensystems und exemplarische Anwendung auf eine Schulbuchreihe [how is energy represented in biology schoolbooks?—development of a categroy system and application to a school book series]. Zeitfschrift fuer die Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften (ZfDN)., 22(1), 215–229. doi:10.1007/s40573-016-0051-2.
Yu, C.-Y. (2002). Evaluating cutoff criteria of model fit indices for latent variable models with binary and continuous outcomes. Los Angeles, CA: Doctoral Dissertation.
We thank the city of Hamburg for funding this research as part of the alles>>könner project, and we acknowledge the support from all participating teachers and students. We owe special thanks to Ilka Parchmann for the development of the chemistry items and her substantial participation in the discussion of our findings. We are very grateful to David Fortus for all his productive comments on this manuscript and for allowing this work to be summed up during a research stay at his research group. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous reviewers who invested their time and expertise for the revisions of this work.
About this article
Cite this article
Opitz, S.T., Neumann, K., Bernholt, S. et al. Students’ Energy Understanding Across Biology, Chemistry, and Physics Contexts. Res Sci Educ 49, 521–541 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-017-9632-4
- Crosscutting concept
- Disciplinary core idea
- Knowledge integration