Science - A real energy boost

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
Turn the transfer of heat energy by convection into a hot topic

Energy is a difficult concept for adults, let alone children. Arguments about what energy is and how the concept of energy should be taught have raged for years. Should we talk about energy transfer or transformation? Two perennial issues are the confusion behind the everyday use of the word "energy" and the fact that the concept is abstract - energy is not a concrete thing that we can easily see and study.

Heat Energy, a new interactive teaching resource by TES science adviser Alessio Bernardelli and Keith Gibbs, tackles at least one aspect of energy - the transfer of heat energy by convection - highly effectively. Interactive media has the potential to deliver abstract ideas in much more imaginative and creative ways than a standard printed textbook.

This resource mixes photographs and graphics with video and animation. After an introductory section on convection, the idea of convection is related to the home. The resource moves on to convection in gases (air) and fluids, before looking at how convection currents affect our weather systems. Along the way there are interactive quizzes, advice for answering questions and tips on revision techniques. The e-book is designed not as an initial teaching book but as an interactive revision resource, so there are assumptions that most students reading and using the resource will have covered conduction as well as convection.

In one or two cases the animations were just a bit too simple - for example, a small animation of heating a room, showing the movement of hot and cold air, didn't achieve much. That said, another video clip showing the mixing of hot and cold water containing red and blue water beads worked well, although an explanatory soundtrack would be useful.

The resource ends with a good summary mind map that is expandable. This is effective and could be improved further with the inclusion of a section for students to create their own summary mind maps.

More schools are moving towards online content and it is good to see dedicated interactive resources being produced. With more schools issuing iPads to students, such interactive resource materials will no doubt eventually replace battered textbooks. The key is to develop them with flexibility so that they can easily be incorporated into existing school-based virtual learning environments. And it's important to have levels of differentiation so that all students can access the content to further develop their understanding. This resource goes a significant way towards doing that.

James Williams is a lecturer in science education at the School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex. Download the resource for free at bit.lyHeatEnergyEbook

What else?

Try Physics_Teacher's heat quiz to test students' understanding of conduction, convection and radiation.


J4yna's card-matching heating and cooling activity is a great revision aid and easy to adapt for differentiation.


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