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The use of History and Philosophy of Science as a core for a socio constructivist teaching approach of the concept of energy in Primary Education

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The use of History and Philosophy of Science as a core for a socio constructivist teaching approach of the concept of energy in Primary Education.

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The use of History and Philosophy of Science as a core for a socioconstructivist teaching approach of the concept of energy in Primary Education

Panagiotis Kokkotas*, Katerina Rizaki*, Nikos Valanides*** Pedagogical Department of Primary Education, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

** Department of Education, University of Cyprus, Cyprus

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Our proposal

a) Our study should be thought as a socioconstructivist proposal for the teaching the concept of energy in Primary Education

b) contains important and crucial aspects of History and Philosophy of Natural Sciences.

These aspects are mainly related with the progress of the concept of energy in NaturalSciences

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Our objectives are:

  • to introduce the concept of energy using the macroscopic framework of thermodynamics (the first and second thermodynamic laws)
  • to take into consideration learners’ alternative ideas or frameworks relating to energy
  • to take advantage of the causal character of energy as it is revealed from its historiographical analysis
  • to take advantage of the unifying character of energy as it is revealed from its historiographical analysis
  • to use energy chains as visual representations for the deep understanding of the concept of energy
  • to use visual grammar of Kress & van Leeuwen (1996) to design energy chains and
  • to propose a new methodology for teaching the concept of energy in primary education.
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Introducing the concept of energy within the macroscopic thermodynamic framework

  • We tend to support that the macroscopic thermodynamic framework constitutes the most appropriate framework for the instructional transformation of the concept of energy in relation to mechanics.
  • This approach is based on
  • the ideas of Prigogine and Stengers (1979) who consider thermodynamics as the most appropriate framework for explaining natural phenomena in comparison with mechanics
  • Arons’ argumentation (Arons,1999) supporting the idea that the theorem of work and kinetic energy has limited applications in the framework of mechanics and it does not represent a real energy equation aligned with thermodynamics
  • the views of Lehrman (1973) for a modern definition of energy compatible with or aligned to the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
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These ideas stress that an instructional transformation of the first and second law of thermodynamics should be based on the basic properties of energy

(energy can be stored, conserved, transformed, degraded, and transported).

These properties should constitute

the frame of reference for student’s construction and comprehension of the concept of energy during its instructional transformation

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Learners’ alternative ideas or frameworks

Any socioconstructivist instructional intervention attempts to invest on learners’ existing alternative ideas or frameworks.

The existing literature supports that many of these alternative conceptions relating to energy are directly connected with the respective scientific framework that they refer to (Watts, 1983;Trumper, 1990; Nicholls & Ogborn, 1993; Solomon, 1983; Gilbert & Pope, 1982; Trumper, 1993; Bliss & Ogborn, 1985).

Learners express reasoning patterns connected to energy that are however intuitively aligned with the accepted scientific framework either at mono-phenomenological situations, such as electrical or thermal phenomena or at multi-phenomenological situations when they activate linear causal reasoning (Koliopoulos & Ravanis, 2001).

Besides, other studies examined students’ difficulties when they use the concept of energy to interpret different phenomena ((Driver & Warrington (1985);Solomon (1983)) while students’ qualitative reasoning is defective even when they have adequate expertise (Golding & Osborne, 1994).

Other studies established students’ difficulties when they use the concept of energy as a conservedquantity ((Duit,1981); (Driver & Warrington, 1985)).

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The causal nature of energy

  • The relation of energy to causality is revealed from its historiographical analysis as indicated in the scientific work of several founders and pioneers of the causal nature of energy (Mayer, cited by Cavena, 1993; Helmholtz cited by Bevilacqua, 1993).
  • In a socioconstructivist teaching approach, the causal nature of energy will be indicated using the following strategies:
  • the concept of energy will be used as a basic concept for interpreting phenomena
  • the model of “energy chains” will be the basis for designing the program that incorporates causality (Lemeignan & Weil-Barais, 1993; Tiberghien & Megalakaki, 1995) and
  • a deliberate attempt will target the identification of learners’ pre-causal reasoning relating to energy. In particular, learners’ ideas will be identified by asking them to interpret phenomena or systems where different actions are present that cause explicit results, so that learners can identify a cause.
  • The main objective is to identify learners’ pre-causal reasoning patterns and how to scaffold their developmentfor interpreting phenomena using the concept of energy.
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The unifying nature of energy

The unifying nature of energy is revealed through its historiographical analysis.

According to Kuhn (1959), naturophilosophy can easily be considered as an appropriate basis for formulating the principle of conservation of energy. From our perspective this can justify the philosophical basis of it, because there was a constant search for a unifying concept for interpreting all natural phenomena. Closely related to philosophy of the principle of the concept of energy was also the tendency certain pioneers of the principle had to identify an indestructible force built in every natural phenomenon (Kuhn, 1959).

These views provide adequate support for the philosophical and unifying nature of the concept of energy and give enough support to our proposal.

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The unifying nature of energy is indicated in our proposal by using the same explanatory principle in interpreting phenomena relating to electric or heat phenomena and mechanics.

The proposed educational module can explain different phenomena, such as the emission of light by an electric bulb in a closed electric circuit, the heating of an amount of water from a camping gas or the sun heat, the movement of a body due to another moving body, the movement of a body by a coiled spring. Thus, different natural systems can be dealt with in a unifying manner by referring to energy as an entity that can be stored in a system, transformed and transported among different systems.

We also put emphasis on young students’ ability to recognize where energy is stored, and an obvious transformer, or receiver of energy, or a storage agent. Those are selected from their familiar physical or structured environment

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Energy chains as a visual representation contribute to better comprehend the abstract concept of energy

Appropriate visual representations are considered as important instructional tools that can extensively facilitate the comprehension and internal representation of abstract ideas, such as energy (Buckley, 2000; Patrick et al., 2005; Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996).

Ametller and Pinto (2002) support that external visual representations are useful tools for effectively teaching science, especially for students with limited mathematical background, such as those at the primary or lower secondary school.

Visual representations can integrate multiple relations and are thus preferable because they have certain advantages when compared with only textual information (Patrick et al., 2005).

Lemeignan and Weil –Barais (1993) suggested, for example, the use of symbolic visual representations, such as the “energy chains,” for scaffolding students thinking and helping them to adequately comprehend ideas related to energy.

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Energy chains

The design of energy chains as visual representations should be necessarily aligned with the basic rules of visual grammar (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996) and

should also take into consideration research evidence indicating students’ difficulties in decoding information embedded in visual representations (Pinto, 2002; Ametler & Pinto, 2002).

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Introducinga stable methodology in our proposal

The instructional materials consist of working sheets characterized by the same structure. Students are initially invited to design and conduct appropriate experiments in order to investigate and later explain the functioning of respective physical systems.

During this process, students attempt to identify the functioning of these systems and to prepare the hypothetical introduction of the basic properties through which energy is manifested and understood.

This school knowledge is then visually represented using the idea of “energy chains”.

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The methodology of the suggested proposal is very similar to the methodology used by Helmoholtz in the work Erhaltung (cited by Bevilanqua, 1993).

Helmholtz not only wanted to express a principle, but also to establish the framework and rules following those principles which could be formulated and used.

This is what makes Helmholtz’s approach a major step in the emergence of theoretical physics and shows that his version of the principle was the application of a sophisticated methodology.

The use of different physical laws ought to satisfy experimental results and the principle of energy conservation

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Based on Helmoholtz’s ideas, the properties of energy introduced hypothetically and could explain natural systems.

First of all, students try to recognize the functioning of physical systems and to prepare the introduction of the basic properties of energy. These properties are the scientific knowledge that should constitute the frame of reference for students’ construction and comprehension of the concept of energy during its instructional transformation (the first and second thermodynamic laws).

Students construct the energy chains with the rules of visual grammar.

The energy chains as a visual message differ from a verbal message because express meanings, which could not be expressed verbally.

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As an example we refer to the structure of a worksheet which concerns the lighting of an electric bulb which is part of an electric circuit.

At the beginning we present to the students materials and ask them to choose the most proper of them in order to construct an electric circuit in which electric bulb will light.

When students succeed in their effort to make the bulb shine, we ask them to explain how it happened. In this stage we elicit alternative ideas of our students. These ideas have to do with conceptions closely related with the phenomenological field of electricity and they express pre energy causal reasoning when we examine their views in the context of unifying of electric-thermal and mechanical phenomena.

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After that in the elaboration of the worksheet we try to examine the role of objects of the electric circuit. This process constitutes a preparatory stage of the hypothetical introduction of the concept of energy and in no circumstances it experimentally proves the concept of energy

The concept of energy is hypothetically introduced on the basis of its properties:

Firstly the deposit is introduced,

Secondly the transportation and the transformation.

Next to this in the context of the study of thermal phenomena we introduce the properties of conservation and degradation.

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In the constructed curriculum the elaboration of the concept of energy is continued with the energy chains. In this stage we link experimental elaboration of phenomena with the scientific information about energy and the design of energy chains.

Students start with the design of the realistic representation which acts as a “facilitator” of the design of energy chains.

The objects-systems referred as deposits, receivers and transformers of energy. Deposits are the bodies which give energy, receivers are those bodies which take energy and also give, and transformers are the bodies which transform energy which receive with a square we represent the deposits and the receivers of energy and with a triangle the transformers. Each of these schemes has a meaning which is socioculturally shaped.

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When students finished the design of simple forms of energy chains, they add elements which concern the ways of transfer of energy and the forms of deposited energy.

For example they could write in the square chemical energy if the deposit is a battery, as in an electric circuit. Indicatively, we refer to some ways of transfer energy such as electricity for the electric work, the motion as mechanical work (which refers to mechanical phenomena).

The representation of the way of transfer in an energy chain is symbolized with an arrow on which we write the way of transfer.

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We also try a semi-quantitative approach which can be achieved with the following ways

  • Implied conservation in the context of energy chains
  • With the help of an analogical model as well as of role play. The process of exchange is a good example
  • With discussions which have to do with the reduction of the quantity of energy. For example the increase of the temperature of a quantity of water which is heated with the burning of natural gas which reduces its quantity.
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In addition we extend the use of the concept of energy in the field of technology and the environment.

Thus, not only we introduce the technological aspects of energy but we also emphasize the distinction between technological forms and theoretical forms of energy.

We will also emphasize the renewable and non renewable sources of energy that are related to technology.

Obviously, the implications of technological forms of energy on our global environment can be easily revealed and comprehended.

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