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Laying the Foundations in Elementary School

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Rethinking How to Teach Energy is a two-year exploratory research project to develop a grade 3–5 learning progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The project identifies young students’ ideas about a network of foundational ideas about energy and explores how students could progress from those initial ideas toward a scientific understanding of energy.

Questions we are asking:

Scientific understanding of phenomena in terms of energy requires a network of ideas about:

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  • What form of the network of ideas is within reach of 5th graders (with proper instruction) and can allow productive learning about energy in middle school (5th grade stepping stone)?
  • What are children’s beginning ideas about energy (lower anchor)?
  • What specific learning experiences could promote the progressive transformation and integration of students’ ideas from the lower anchor to the 5th grade stepping stone?

This project (NSF Awards 1002013 and 1002020) is a collaborative effort involving scientists, science educators, and teachers from TERC, Clark University, Tufts University, and urban Massachusetts schools. The work draws on and complements the learning progression and curriculum for matter developed and tested in the Inquiry Project (NSF award 0628245) http://inquiryproject.terc.edu/.

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