Teaching About Energy

Application of the Conceptual Profile Theory to Overcome the Encapsulation of School Science Knowledge

Abstract

In this article, we draw upon the Conceptual Profile Theory to discuss the negotiation of meanings related to the energy concept in an 11th grade physics classroom. This theory is based on the heterogeneity of verbal thinking, that is, on the idea that any individual or society does not represent concepts in a single way. According to this perspective, the processes of conceptualization consist of the use of a repertoire of different socially stabilized signifiers, adjusted to the context in which they occur. We start by proposing zones of a conceptual profile model for energy, each zone being characterized by its own commitments and identifiable by certain modes of talking about energy. Based on classroom evidence, we claim that teachers and students negotiate meanings that interpenetrate the domains of everyday and scientific knowledge. Being inevitable and necessary, this heterogeneity of conceptual thinking needs to be considered in teaching design in order to allow its awareness on the part of the students. We argue that students’ conceptual development goals should be considered in terms of general goals of science education, which points to the need of overcoming the encapsulation of scientific school knowledge. We show that the Conceptual Profile Theory provides a basis for science education that can promote the crossing of cultural boundaries, seeking relations between science and the spheres of everyday life.

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Fig. 1: Map of the zones of the energy conceptual profile model, showing overlaps of zones related to everyday meanings of energy
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    By mode of conceptualization we are referring to the different status of concepts in the domain of everyday life knowledge and scientific knowledge. In science, concepts are theoretical units that are part of a structure of knowledge that is focus of a deliberate analysis. In the realm of everyday life, concepts are much more elusive, flexible, and oriented to practical action.

  2. 2.

    Contrary to Solomon, we recognize that there is more than a single domain of science. There is much polysemy in the scientific interpretations of energy, and some of these interpretations are nearly exclusive to specific scientific subdomains, e.g., physics, chemistry, geology, ecology, and molecular biology. We address this later in the article.

  3. 3.

    The methodological grounds for the proposal of the zones of the conceptual profile of energy extrapolate the objectives of this paper.

  4. 4.

    To elaborate this representation, we were inspired by Solomon’s (1992) mapping of energy themes. However, Solomon presents a mapping of contexts, not of concepts. She also does not establish relations between the spheres of general knowledge and scientific knowledge.

  5. 5.

    This is, in some ways, analogous to the sense that matter comes in many forms (e.g., different phases of the same matter or different allotropes of an element). However, the forms-of-matter analogy is not mapped to energy in many forms when considering types of matter (e.g., different elements or structural isomers with the same molecular formula) vs. types of energy, since conservation of energy provides for transformations between types of energy, while conservation of matter does not uniformly imply the same for matter (e.g., elements do not change identity, though structural isomers can sometimes be interconverted).

  6. 6.

    We reproduce the sentences in the way they were annotated by the teacher (including quotation marks); they reveal both the students’ ways of talking and the importance the teacher attributed to them. We added codes in parentheses (Z1 to Z5) referring to the zones of the energy concept profile, and numbers (1 to 10), to facilitate references in the text.

  7. 7.

    This activity as well the proposal of the ramp experiment was taken from the book “Energizing Physics” (Osowiecki and Southwick 2012).

  8. 8.

    https://phet.colorado.edu/sims/html/energy-skate-park-basics/latest/energy-skate-park-basics_en.html

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to the teacher, codenamed Terra, who welcomed OA into her classroom to observe and interview her students and her.

Funding

Funding that supported this work was provided to the first and second authors (OA and HS): United States National Science Foundation award DRL-1621228, first and third authors (OA and CE-H): the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq) for Productivity in Research Fellowships (309361/2016-8 and 303011/2017-3, respectively), and third author (CE-H): research funding for the National Institute of Science and Technology (Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia, INCT) project by CNPq award 465767/2014-1 and a Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, CAPES) award 23038.000776/2017-54.

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Aguiar, O., Sevian, H. & El-Hani, C.N. Teaching About Energy. Sci & Educ 27, 863–893 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-018-0010-z

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