Opportunities and approaches for teaching and learning about energy: Looking through the energy lens: A proposed learning progression for energy in grades 3–5

Document Type

Book Chapter


This chapter presents a general framework for thinking about the goals of pre-college energy education and a detailed learning progression for Grades 3–5. This work is based on a review of existing literature on children’s understanding of energy as well as interviews and teaching interventions with elementary students. We propose that energy education focus on how scientists use what we call the “Energy Lens” to examine a broad range of phenomena in terms of energy. We identify a network of four interdependent foundational ideas that are central to a scientific understanding of energy, essential for an informed citizen, and can progressively and meaningfully evolve, with instruction, from their precursors in childhood to principles endorsed by scientists. Our proposed learning progression builds on students’ initial ideas and indicates how students’ understanding of the network of foundational energy ideas and the Energy Lens will broaden and deepen over the course of a 3-year instructional sequence from Grades 3–5. This approach shows promise to help students restructure their ideas about energy and prepare them for further instruction and learning in middle school. In pilot classroom activities, 3rd and 5th grade students began to develop language, representations, and habits of mind that enabled them to adopt a model of energy as something that manifests itself in different forms and to associate energy increases with energy decreases, paving the way to understanding energy transfer and, eventually, energy conservation.

Publication Title

Teaching and Learning of Energy in K-12 Education

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learning progression, heat energy, energy gain, energy education