Break down the energy barrier

3rd January 1997 at 00:00



Pounds 14.50 for three booklets The Association for Science Education College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AA

What do you say to a pupil who tells you that: "Heat is given off when something cools down?" Teaching about energy can make you realise that your own understanding of scientific phenomena can be inadequate and sometimes plain wrong. Energy and Change may make things clearer.

The three booklets, aimed at key stage 3 and 4 pupils and their teachers, are the result of a three-year project based at the University of London Institute of Education and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. A key idea is that change is caused by difference. Diagrams are used to make visible the invisible changes taking place in everyday life, so that they can be patterned and better understood. Children learn to use a "picture language" in order to discuss and reflect on their abstract experience of change.

The pupil activities are designed to be slotted into the curriculum at intervals rather than taught as a stand-alone unit. The teaching strategy involves using common sense ways of explaining to challenge common sense ideas that are all-too frequently unscientific. The Background Stories booklet is a valuable resource, containing 21 explanations of the changes involved in everyday phenomena from burning to the weather.

The booklets provoke thought - have you ever taught that temperature is a measure of the concentration of energy? Jon Ogborn and Dick Boohan are right when they say that the pictures that play a fundamental role in the teaching material "may appear somewhat daunting at first". However, trials have shown that pupils take to them and develop better understandings of ideas that many teachers struggle to make sense of.

This is innovative material that anyone teaching about energy should read and think about. It is strikingly different from material currently on offer for teaching about energy, but whether that difference will drive a change depends on whether teachers can overcome the energy barrier that their first impressions may create.

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