Effective teaching of conservation of mechanical energy
Raphoto, Mosoaboli Sarel
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The understanding of the scientific meaning of the concept of energy and the principle of the conservation of mechanical energy is affected by various connotations and meanings that the concept and principle have in everyday language use. Young children develop and formulate their own conceptual meanings and understanding of the concepts that often differ from the scientific meanings. These preconceived ideas are termed alternative conceptions of the learners. Learners associate the concept of energy with living and moving objects, in other words, the difficulties experienced by learners in comprehending the scientific concept of energy and its conservation are embedded in their anthropocentric and anthropomorphic views. Focusing on the nature and origins of these alternative conceptions held by learners, a literature study of contemporary constructivist teaching and learning strategies was conducted. The theoretical investigations led to an empirical study. A quantitative action research methodology was undertaken. Firstly, a questionnaire was designed and administered to grade 10 learners to diagnose their alternative conceptions about the concept of energy and the principle of conservation of energy. The results of the questionnaire were analyzed to determine the nature of the alternative conceptions held by the learners. Secondly, an intervention program was designed. During the intervention various factors that might contribute to learners' conceptualization of the concept of energy were exploited. Contemporary teaching-learning approaches and strategies, which are constructivist in nature, were used. Inquiry teaching was implemented through the 5E instructional model. The teaching and learning experiences were contextualized, i.e., they were designed using situations and experiences that were familiar to the learners. Thirdly, the success of the intervention to accomplish conceptual change was assessed. The analysis of the results of the empirical study shows a significant improvement of the learners' understanding of energy and its conservation. This was reflected in the calculated normalized learning gain of 68%. The results show the importance for teachers to continuously do active research on various aspects of the educational environment like learners' alternative conceptions, contemporary teaching-learning strategies and contextual factors that might influence effective teaching and learning.
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