Criteria for Creating and Categorizing Forms of Energy

S. B. McKagan, R. E. Scherr, E. W. Close, and H. G. Close, "Criteria for Creating and Categorizing Forms of Energy," C. Singh, M. Sabella, and Engelhardt (Eds.), AIP Conf. Proc. (2011 Physics Education Research Conference)


Traditional instruction on energy often presents forms of energy as a seemingly arbitrary list to be memorized, with little discussion of the meaning or purpose of these forms. Learners often struggle to make sense of these forms, and neither physicists nor physics educators are explicit about the criteria used to create these lists. This article presents our understanding of the meaning and purpose of forms, based on (1) our understanding of how physicists have used forms and (2) our observations of how elementary teachers create new forms and categorize existing forms in order to understand real-world problems. We propose that explicitly articulating the criteria used to identify forms of energy can empower teachers and students and help them to understand both the concept of energy and the nature of science.