Reflection: Developing a Conceptual Understanding How To Define Energy - Section 3: Identifying Connections between Energy and Physics


At this point in the semester, students have worked with mathematical, physical and theory-driven models of physics concepts. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to introduce a concept that has no gold standard. I ask students, "Can Energy be defined?" Most students answer, "Of course energy can be defined; it's the ability to do work." When I ask students to define work, I am told "Work is anything that requires energy to complete."

During the mind mapping activity students highlight receive details like the units of energy, the equations for kinetic and potential energy and the idea that energy is conserved. I tell students that they are not alone in being stumped when trying to define energy.

Most modern physicists use the working definition that energy is the ability or currency of work or focus on the transfer mechanism rather than the concept of energy. Within this lesson, I ask students to conduct research in order construct an explanation of energy that does not involve describing a particular transfer mechanism. The idea that there is no one "correct" answer puzzles several students. I remind students that physics is model-dependent and although we are able to mathematically describe particular energy transfer mechanisms effectively, the current model for energy is not yet complete. I believe that the flexibility to use research to replace or extend incomplete models is an essential part of learning and practicing physics.

  Asking Open Ended Questions
  Developing a Conceptual Understanding: Asking Open Ended Questions
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How To Define Energy

Unit 5: Work and Energy
Lesson 1 of 15

Objective: Students will use graphic organizers to demonstrate an understanding of how to define energy.

Big Idea: Energy is the "currency" of work., but a single model for energy does not (yet) exist.

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