Wittmann, Flood, and many others on negotiations of energy in a structured environment (Energy Theater)

Rachel E. Scherr*, Hunter G. Close†, Eleanor W. Close†, Virginia J. Flood‡, Sarah B. McKagan*, Amy D. Robertson*, Lane Seeley*, Michael C. Wittmann§‡, and Stamatis Vokos*

Negotiating energy dynamics through embodied action in a materially structured environment

Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 9, 020105 – Published 11 July 2013

* Department of Physics, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA
† Department of Physics, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
‡ Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, Orono, ME
§ Department of Physics, University of Maine, Orono, ME

We provide evidence that a learning activity called Energy Theater engages learners with key conceptual issues in the learning of energy, including disambiguating matter flow and energy flow and theorizing mechanisms for energy transformation. A participationist theory of learning, in which learning is indicated by changes in speech and behavior, supports ethnographic analysis of learners’ embodied interaction with each other and the material setting. We conduct detailed analysis to build plausible causal links between specific features of Energy Theater and the conceptual engagement that we observe. Disambiguation of matter and energy appears to be promoted especially by the material structure of the Energy Theater environment, in which energy is represented by participants, while objects are represented by areas demarcated by loops of rope. Theorizing mechanisms of energy transformation is promoted especially by Energy Theater’s embodied action, which necessitates modeling the time ordering of energy transformations.