Rethinking How to Teach Energy: Laying The Foundations in Elementary School (Collaborative Research: Lacy)

This project is a collaborative effort that aims to develop a grade 3-5 Learning Progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The project will identify a network of core concepts and principles about energy that are fundamental and general enough to be compatible with scientific ideas about energy, yet within reach of 5th graders.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020013
Funding Period: 
September 1, 2010 to August 31, 2012
Full Description: 

This project is a collaborative effort involving scientists, science educators, and teachers from TERC, Clark University, Tufts University,and urban Massachusetts schools that aims to develop a grade 3-5 Learning Progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The work draws on and complements the learning progression and curriculum for matter developed and tested in the Inquiry Project (NSF award 0628245). The project will identify a network of core concepts and principles about energy that are fundamental and general enough to be compatible with scientific ideas about energy, yet within reach of 5th graders.

This project explores the hypothesis that, while the scientific concept of energy is too abstract and difficult to understand in early grades, useful foundations can be established early on by elaborating a learning progression for energy. Clinical interviews will be administered to 24 pairs of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders recruited from urban after-school programs, to identify precursors to the core ideas as well obstacles to learning them. This research will help the investigators design key learning experiences that could allow students to progress from initial ideas toward a scientific understanding of energy. Those learning designs will then be tested in teaching interviews with 3 small groups of students in the same settings.

The result of the project will be an outline for a grade 3-5 learning progression for energy taking into account the project research findings as well as relevant standards, curricula, and science education literature.