Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education
Date of this Version
Menon, D., Blake, S., & Mattingly, C. (2016). Understanding energy: Primary students investigate the effects of energy. Science and Children, 54(4), 54-58
Energy is a term often used in everyday language. Even young children associate energy with the food they eat, feeling tired after playing soccer, or when asked to turn the lights off to save light energy. However, they may not have the scientific conceptual understanding of energy at this age. Teaching energy and matter could be challenging at the K–2 level because they are abstract concepts. Nevertheless, developing a concrete understanding of energy at an early age is important for children in order to rationalize why we need energy from food or why wearing gloves helps keep our hands warmer. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) emphasize energy beginning as early as K–2 (NGSS Lead States 2013; see Connecting to the NGSS on p. 58). In this article, we share our success with implementing a 5E (Bybee 1997) inquiry-based energy lesson that engages K–2 students in energy flow in everyday life. Students observe events and the associated patterns and use these patterns to formulate their evidence-based explanations for energy transfer. Drawing from NGSS performance expectation K-PS2-1, we use the physical model of a ball rolling down a ramp set at different heights to illustrate the effects of motion and energy. The lesson presents ample opportunities to extend the activity through connections to the Common Core State Standards for ELA. Our main focus in the lesson is to build a strong foundation and excitement toward the abstract concepts of energy and matter at an early age, in order for these concepts to further develop during later grade levels.
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