Finegold and Trumper, 1989

Israeli-based researchers classified 172 students’ misconceptions (ages 13-17) about energy to develop a new teaching approach. Ideas were identified through a series of five tasks and the responses were grouped into different frameworks.

Teaching and Learning Implications

  • Exposing students to the different conceptions of energy, and pitting them against other conceptions is a way to bring students closer to scientifically acceptable conceptions.

Learners’ ideas

  • Only 56% of students aged 16-17 used energy concepts in their explanations and only 38% used the concept of conservation.
  • The most commonly used framework used by students (39%)  was the active deposit (energy causing or needed for things to happen).
  • The anthropocentric framework (associating energy with human beings) was used by 21% of students.
  • Students associated scenarios where there was no obvious movement with having no energy.
  • It was possible to classify 96% of students' descriptions according to the modified list of frameworks described in the full report.

Study Structure


Two research aims were given:

  1. to identify students' alternative conceptions of energy
  2. to use that knowledge to develop a teaching method that brings them closer to the scientifically accepted framework.

Evidence collection

Students completed a series of five energy-related tasks, the first four of which were taken from a prior study (Duit, 1984).  These were administered to students using the interview-about-instances technique developed by Osborne and Gilbert (1980). In this technique, students describe examples or non-examples of the physical concepts and situations presented in a series of pictures.

The activities were preceded by a pilot study of slightly different compositions involving 175 students, resulting in minor modifications.

After the tasks, interviews took place where students were confronted with a particular example and asked a series of energy-related questions. Interview transcripts were processed according to Duit (1981) and this forms the basis of the analysis in the report.

Details of the sample

The student sample, taken from secondary schools in northern Israel, comprised:

  • 75 grade 9 students (aged 13-14) who had had no previous instruction in physics.
  • 29 grade 10 students (aged 14-15) who had studied a one-year programme 'Energy and its transformations' (1978).
  • 18 grade 11 students (aged 15-16) some of whom had taken physics previously and who were about to start a course in mechanics.
  • 50 12th graders (aged 16-17) all of whom had studied physics, including mechanics.


Duit, R. (1981) Students' Notions About the Energy Concept - Before and After Physics Instruction, Kiel Univ. (West Germany).

Duit, R. (1984) Learning the energy concept in school - empirical results from The Philippines and West Germany, Phys. Educ., 19, 59. 

Gilbert, K. & Osborne, J. (1980) The Use of Models in Science and Science Teaching, European Journal of Science Education, 2 (1), 3-13.

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