Wittmann and Alvarado on teacher knowledge of energy

Michael C. Wittmann and Carolina Alvarado

Teacher awareness of problematic facets of meaningful metaphors of energy

accepted for publication in the Latin American Journal of Physics Education (Apr 3, 2017)

English Abstract

How teachers respond to students depends, in part, on what they see in their students’ thinking. In a teacher professional development setting, we asked teachers to provide possible incorrect responses and explanations that students might give when discussing the gravitational potential energy of identical hikers walking to the summit of a mountain along different paths, from the same starting point. Teachers were aware of the common difficulties that students might have, including (1) energy is “used up” because of travel time, travel distance, or the effort exerted during travel (2) double-counting work and energy, and (3) energy being an intrinsic property of the hiker. Several of these difficulties use the metaphor of energy as a substance-like quantity, but teachers never made explicit that they were aware of the value of this metaphor in thinking about energy. We discuss the need for teachers to respond to multiple grain sizes of student thinking, including the metaphors they use and the different and at times problematic facets of each.

Keywords: Teacher training, Alternative conceptions, Gravity.

Resumen Espanol

La manera en que los maestros responden a los alumnos depende, en parte, de lo que ven en el pensamiento de los estudiantes. En un curso de capacitación, le pedimos a maestros que proporcionaran la posible respuesta incorrecta y la explicación de qué explicaciones podrían dar al analizar la energía gravitacional potencial de unos excursionistas idénticos caminando hacia la cumbre de una montaña por diferentes veredas, iniciando desde el mismo punto. Los maestros reconocían las dificultades comunes que los estudiantes podrían tener, incluyendo (1) la energía es “usada” en el tiempo viajado, distancia recorrida, o el esfuerzo requerido durante el viaje, (2) contar doblemente el trabajo y la energía, y (3) considerar la energía como una propiedad intrínseca del excursionista. Muchas de esas dificultades utilizan la metáfora de la energía como una cantidad del tipo sustancia, pero los maestros nunca hicieron explícito que ellos estaban al tanto del valor de dicha metáfora la pensar en energía. Discutimos la necesidad de los maestros a responder a las múltiples maneras de pensar de los estudiantes, incluyendo metáforas que usan así como las facetas que pueden ser problemáticas en ocasiones..

Palabras clave: Capacitación de maestros, Concepciones alternativas, Gravedad.


Barth-Cohen and Wittmann on coordination classes and energy

Lauren Barth-Cohen and Michael C. Wittmann

Aligning Coordination Class Theory With a New Context: Applying a Theory of Individual Learning to Group Learning

This article presents an empirical analysis of conceptual difficulties encountered and ways students made progress in learning at both individual and group levels in a classroom environment in which the students used an embodied modeling activity to make sense of a specific scientific scenario. The theoretical framework, coordination class theory, has primarily been used to capture individual learning in interview settings, and here it is applied to analytically capture both individual and group learning in a complex classroom environment. Classrooms of ninth-grade earth science students used the position of their bodies to model a specific scientific concept, the steady-state energy of the earth. The students encountered difficulties aligning their understanding of the scientific concept with the models. Subsequently, they changed their models in specific ways that better aligned their understanding of the scientific concept with their newly modified model. The theory is utilized to describe learning by both individuals and the group in this classroom environment and shows how a single student's contribution can dramatically affect the model and subsequent learning. Implications suggest new ways in which the theory may be useful for designing learning environments.