Trumper, 1993

This Israel-based longitudinal study attempts to find the age at which teaching about energy becomes effective for students. Additionally, it was designed to identify students’ energy conceptions over the ages of 10 to 14.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • The findings support the approach of many educational researchers, like Shadmi (1984) and Solomon (1985), who claim that we should begin teaching the energy concept as early as possible.
  • Educators should embrace a constructivist approach to teaching, acknowledging learners' existing conceptual frameworks and encouraging their active application when encountering and understanding new situations.

Learners’ ideas

  • Almost all students will often apply an anthropocentric' framework for energy - energy is to do with living and moving things. This approach is particularly common in young learners.
  • Almost all students will use a causative framework (energy makes things work).
  • Almost all students use a product framework (energy changes from one form to another).
  • After studying physics, students generally continue to adhere to the same alternative frameworks held before the formal study.
  • Many words in science, like energy, are used differently in everyday language.

Further suggestions

  • Use Socratic-like dialogues held in small groups which ultimately lead students to restructure their concepts.
  • Young children should be led from their anthropocentric framework to a more generalized framework wherein human beings are seen as "energy agents" in processes of "energy transformations".
  • Students should analyse a great number of physical processes and describe them in terms of 'causes' and 'results'.

Study Structure


The study aimed to answer the research question:

  • At what age may children usefully be taught about energy?

Evidence collection

Energy preconceptions of seventh, eighth and ninth graders (12-14 years) were analysed using a written questionnaire, developed and validated by Finegold and Trumper (1989), which included three tasks based on a series of images. Fifth and sixth graders (ages 10-12) were presented with a simplified version of the questionnaire.

Responses to the questionnaire about energy were analysed according to:

  1. free associations with the word energy
  2. pictures in which the energy concept is identified
  3. alternative frameworks used to describe chosen pictures
  4. definitions of energy

Children's definitions and explanations about their choice of pictures were classified according to a set of alternative frameworks. The chi-square coefficient among associations of the five grades was calculated and major differences among grade levels and types of associations were identified.

Details of the sample

The sample consisted of 398 students, aged 10 to 14, drawn from two rural, regional schools in Israel.

  • 68 fifth graders (10-11 years old)
  • 67 sixth graders (11-12 years old)
  • 79 seventh graders (12-13 years old)
  • 89 eighth graders (13-14 years old)
  • 95 ninth graders (14 years old)

None of the participants had any formal physics instruction before this study.


Solomon, J. (1985) Teaching the Conservation of Energy, Physics Education, 20, 165-170.

Shadmi, Y. (1984) An outline of a mechanics course based on the Israeli junior High School Physics Curriculum, Science Teaching In Israel: Origins, Development and Achievements.

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