Trumper and Gorsky, 1993

This Israel-based study compares the ability of students to develop their ideas about energy with their open or closed-mindedness along with their level of cognitive operation. It found that students with greater prior knowledge developed ideas more successfully and that there was no correlation with open or closed-mindedness.

Learners’ ideas

  • Some students thought that energy is associated with human beings ('the anthropocentric framework').

  • Students could think that some objects have energy and then expend it ('the depository framework').

  • Many students think that energy causes things to happen ('the cause framework')
  • Some students thought of energy as only being related to 'obvious activity' or energy as being the product of a process.
  • Some students used the concept of energy as a type of fluid transferred in some processes.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • There appears to be a relationship between scores measuring the extent to which students hold the 'cause' and 'product' frameworks and their success in learning about energy.

Further suggestions

  • Teachers should be aware that the prevalence of alternative frameworks for energy is partially caused by non-scientific uses of the term in the media and everyday language.

Study Structure


This is a two-part study designed to address the following:

  1. to investigate the potential relationship between junior high school students' alternative energy frameworks before instruction and their cognitive level of operations (pre-formal or formal)
  2. to examine the potential relationship between the success or failure of junior and senior high school students in learning about energy and factors such as their alternative frameworks, cognitive operations, and tendencies toward open- or closed-mindedness.

Evidence collection

Separate phases were used to collect information to address each aim.

During phase one, evidence was collected using a written questionnaire developed in a previous study, Finegold and Trumper (1989). The cognitive ability of the students was measured according to Shemesh and Lazarowitz (1984). Correlation between the two was established using χ2 tests.

During phase two, open or closed-mindedness was measured using work adapted from Rokeach’s (1960) type E dogmatism scale. Participants then studied an energy topic, and their progress was measured four months after completing the course via a questionnaire. The correlation between progress and mindedness was analysed using χ2 tests.

Details of the sample

The sample was based on convenience selection:

  • Part 1 of the study contained 60 ninth-grade students (age 15 years) who had not received formal physics education.
  • Part 2 of the study contained a new set of 16 ninth-grade, 8 tenth-grade (16 years), and 5 eleventh-grade (17 years) students.


Shemesh, M. and Lazarowitz, R. (1984) The development of a video-taped group test for assessing formal operation level, Paper presented at the 1st International Conference on Education in the 90s. Equality, Equity and Excellence in Education, Tel Aviv.

Rokeach, M. (1960) The open and closed mind: Investigations into the nature of belief systems and personality systems, New York: Basic Books.

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