Surveying alternative conceptions about energy in the classroom

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Gue, David Leslie
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Education
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Faculty of Education, 1992
Secondary school pupils' concepts of energy were probed by clinical interviews and a multiple choice survey administered to 84 Alberta students. Preliminary information was gathered from curriculum documents, misconceptions literature and eight preliminary interviews. Both the interviews and the written survey were based on the interview-about-intances approach and used multiple-choice questions with free-response justification of answers. The wide range of alternative conceptions that were expressed paralleled findings of similar studies elsewhere. Most descriptions of energy were framed in substantive or ambiguous terms. Energy was frequently associated with living things, movement, and task performance. It was confused with concepts of heat, force, and pressure. Changes in physical systems were seen variously as consuming energy or as producing it upon demand. Aspects of a scientific conception were more evident among senior physics students, but differences between classes and grade levels did not generally reach statistical significance. Very few responses involved notions of energy as an abstract or conserved quantity. References to energy degradation or dissipation during changes were infrequent in interviews, survey responses, and curriculum documents. Subjects tended to choose similar responses on parallel interview and survey quesitions. Interview subjects showed evidence of preferred conceptual orientations towards a variety of situations, although their survey responses showed no parallel consistency. Conflicting evidence was obtained regarding the spontaneous use of energy-based descriptions of physical situations. Findings were interpreted from a constructivist stance, and implications for the study and teaching of specific topics were drawn. In addition, results suggested the efficacy of appropriate multiple choice instruments as an alternative to clinical interviews in the investigation of alternative conceptions.
xi, 234 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Dissertations, Academic , Force and energy -- Study and teaching