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Energy Education
Shelby Pearce
Florida Institute of Technology


Energy Education
The worldwide demand for energy is increasing at about the same rate as the worlds
population (ElBaradei, 2008). Countries such as China, India, and Brazil are undergoing
tremendous economic growth making them even more reliant upon energy sources. Developed
countries are not reducing their energy usage in any way. In the meantime, there are over 1.6
billion people that still live without electricity in underdeveloped nations (ElBaradei, 2008).
These developing countries are trying to cultivate basic energy sources. The increasing global
desire for energy poses a whole plethora of issues: environmental, political, financial, and
international. If all this doesnt worry you, according to the International Energy Agency
(ElBaradei, 2008), the worlds energy needs could be 50% higher in 2030 than they are today.
The global discussion regarding the expanding energy crisis leads to more simple
questions. What is energy? Does energy have different forms? What is used to produce energy?
Energy is defined as the ability to do work (or cause physical change). There are several forms of
energy: heat, light, motion, electrical, chemical, nuclear, and gravitational. These forms of energy
can exist as either potential or kinetic energy. Potential energy can be seen as the energy that is
stored in an object while kinetic is the actual working energy. Energy sources come from the
world around us; for example, wind. These sources can be broken down into renewable and
nonrenewable. A renewable resource is one that can be easily replenished while a nonrenewable
resource cannot be easily replenished. The main renewable resources include: the sun, the wind,
hot springs or geysers, biomass, and moving water. Some nonrenewable resources are: oil,
natural gas, coal, and uranium pellets (Energy Basics, n.d.). Each of these energy sources has
advantages and disadvantages.


All of this energy talk has made me wonder Are we taking the time to educate
children about energy? How knowledgeable are they about something we rely upon so heavily
for everyday life? Will they be properly informed when they are older and must make decisions
regarding energy? I suspected that children would simply view energy as something we possess
as humans and that preconceived notions would play a major role in what they thought.
In order to begin to evaluate these questions, I formulated 15 interview questions aimed
at discovering childrens ideas in regard to energy. I interviewed two children and asked them
both the same questions. My interviewees were nine-year old Aaron and six- year old Grace.
Aaron and Grace are siblings. From the interviews, I have concluded that there are three main
concepts that both children recognize somewhat understand:
1) Moving things have energy
2) Electricity and energy are related
3) Energy has different forms
One of the initial questions asked was What is energy? Aaron responded by stating
something that makes you run.basically if you dont have energy you would just be sitting.
When I further questioned him asking if cars and our house have energy, he immediately
responded yes. However, when asked if a book had energy he said no almost as if I was
asking him a silly question. I restated the question and used an actual book and placed it on the
edge of the table to see if he would change his mind. He still thought the book did not have
energy. During Graces interview, she was unable to come up with a definition for energy. I then
continued to question her by asking if she had energy, if a dog had energy, if a TV had energy,
and if a book had energy. Grace thought that all of the things I asked her about had energy except
for the book. This indicates that they both understood that moving things have energy. However,


both Grace and Aaron do not yet understand the idea of potential energy. Generally you do not
learn about potential energy until upper elementary school. Students most likely are not
introduced to the idea outside of the classroom explaining why Grace and Aaron think only
moving things must possess energy.
After questioning both Aaron and Grace about the concept of energy I wanted to see if
they understood its relevance to the electricity that comes into their home. To begin the transition
between the concepts, I asked if they know what comes into their house to make the lights and
air conditioning work. Both Aaron and Grace responded electricity. Aaron further expanded by
saying that it comes into his house through wires and some are small and some are big. Both
children implied that energy and electricity are related. However, they were not able to explain or
demonstrate that they understood exactly how the two ideas were related. Aaron thought that the
transformer in his back yard produced his electricity for his home. Later, in Aarons interview he
recognizes that the wind, water, and sun can all be used as energy sources. He even describes the
way a dam operates stating, water goes through and it spins the thing inside and makes
power. This shows that he knows that energy sources are used to make power but has not yet
transferred this idea to how his own power is made. When I asked Grace how electricity and
energy are related she responded because it is different from the other one. I tried re-phrasing
the question and asked why they were different and she replied they do different stuff. These
answers indicated to me that Grace just felt they were related because I was asking about them
together in the interview. Aaron however demonstrates that he understands the concepts related
to both energy and electricity but has not yet formed a complete and whole conceptual schema.
Finally, both children understand that energy takes different forms although; they do not
recognize what exactly the forms are. When I asked Aaron what he thought the different energy


types were, he was initially only able to respond electric energy and human energy or food
energy. As his interview progressed, he realized that wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy also
existed. I asked Aaron if he knew what windmills were and if he knew what they do. He was able
to respond stating, it spins and makes energy basically. I then asked if the sun could be used to
do the same thing. He replied saying, Yup. Solar panels and dams can do that too. The fact that
Aaron offered that dams have the same end goal as solar panels and windmills, shows that
transfer occurred. He recognized that water can also be used as an energy source. When I asked
Grace if there were different types of energy she replied yes but, she thought the different types
of energy were person energy, TV energy, phone energy, and submarine energy. This
demonstrates her belief that anything that has energy has its own specific type of energy.
Overall, both kids show that they recognize energy has different forms but they have not yet
learned the different categories that energy can fall into.
The main three points to be taken from the interview in regards to energy were that
novices on the subject recognize that moving things have energy, electricity and energy are
related, and energy has different forms. However, this interview also deepened my understanding
of how we think and our minds work. It showed the practical application of the major points that
are discussed in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Bransford,1999)..
Three points that reflect readings from How People Learn stood out during the interview
1) Transfer is constantly occurring
2) Children rely upon their initial preconceptions
3) Surroundings play a significant role in learning (Bransford,1999).


Visible transfer occurs several times throughout the interview process. The most
visible case of transfer that I observed during the interview involved the link that I
presented to Aaron at the very beginning. My first question to Aaron was what he thought
a metal link was. What I showed him is a single metal wire link. This link is connected
into a series of links and attaches the bus generator of a power plant to the outgoing
power lines. The series of links carries the electricity produced by a power plant. I was
not expecting Aaron to come up with an in depth answer but, I wanted to challenge him
to think about what a heavy duty wire might actually be used for. Aarons initial answer
was that the wire link was used for a pulley of some sort. I did not tell him whether he
was right or wrong after asking the question. We continued the interview beginning with
the basic energy questions. Eventually, I asked Aaron what comes into his house that
makes the lights, TV, and everything else work. When he was presented with this
question he immediately went into deep thought. There was a long period of silence and I
was worried that Aaron would not know the answer to my question. To my surprise, he
returned to the initial question about the link. After thinking for a while, he popped up,
pointed to the link, and said, Oh! I have another idea of what that could be! He
concluded that it could be a wire used for electricity. This is a great example of transfer
because Aaron recognized that electricity was the answer to my question about our home
and then used this answer to think back on the question I asked earlier and solve it.
The concept that children build on and rely upon what they already know as they
learn was demonstrated by both interviewees. The best example of this from the
interview occurred when I asked Grace if there was more than one way to make
electricity. Grace responded, Peoples hands can do it in science. I was not expecting


Graces answer and had to refrain from laughing at her slightly comical answer. I knew
there must have been some reason that Grace stated our hands can make electricity. As I
further probed Graces mind, I realized that she meant that our hands can mix chemicals
to create a reaction similar to the one that occurs in an experimental volcano. Graces
class had created a volcano using water and baking soda. Grace saw the production of the
volcanos steam as similar to creating electricity. To Grace, this is a very possible idea
since it is something she saw in school and was explained to her by her teachers. She has
not yet recognized the differences between chemical reactions and electricity.
Finally, surroundings can play a major role in how someone responds to questions
versus what they actually think. I interviewed Aaron before I interviewed Grace. I
allowed for Grace to listen to Aarons interview as long as she did not interrupt. Grace sat
with us for majority of Aarons interview and listened to his answers. I then wanted to see
if Graces answers were similar to what Aaron had said. For the first half of the interview
Grace did say things that she picked up from Aarons interview. For instance, when I
asked her about the different forms of energy, one of her responses was, submarine
energy. She must have heard this when I asked Aaron what powers submarines. Also,
Grace was able to immediately respond that electricity makes the lights work in her
house, when Aaron had taken a much longer amount of time to come up with electricity
as an answer. Additionally, Grace was not able to demonstrate that she actually knew
what electricity was. She may have just picked up the word. However, as the interview
progressed, Grace became more comfortable and her own thoughts were expressed.
Grace told me all about the volcano she made at school and how she thought this was like
electricity. She also answered all the questions toward the end of the interview in a


different manner than her brother did. This demonstrated to me that surroundings do play
a role in what people respond but, as a teacher you can eventually figure out what a
student is really thinking. Sometimes it may take time and patience in order to discover a
childs true thought process.
As an educator, action steps can be taken to address these three main points. First,
we must phrase questions and solutions in several ways (Bransford, 1999). You never
know when transfer may occur for a student. Sometimes changing a single word in the
phrasing of a question can cause a child to think differently about the topic. We must also
find ways to use childrens initial preconceptions to expand their knowledge (Bransford,
1999). Sometimes we may have to correct the childs idea. In Graces case, she needs to
be explained the difference between a chemical reaction and electricity so that she can
separate the idea of an experimental volcano from electricity. Finally, we must remember
that students can be affected by their surroundings and the contexts of problems. We must
make sure that we understand what children are actually thinking and distinguish this
from what they are saying based on what is going on around them (Bransford, 1999).
It is vital that children are educated on the idea of energy. Energy has many
different components that must eventually be developed into a whole conceptual schema.
If we are able to get children to form a correct schema in regards to energy, they will be
more informed as they grow up and continue to learn about the energy. Eventually these
children will be the voters of our country that make decisions on the energy crisis. They
will pay power bills. They will drive cars. They will have cell phones. They may even be
the engineers that build power plants or the politicians that make final decisions on


modes of transportation. All of these things have one thing in common: Energy. It is
important that we raise our children to understand the concept.


Transcribed Interview
Interviewee #1 Aaron Murphy
Shelby: What grade are you in Aaron?
Aaron: 3rd
S: So, first question I have for you isWhat do you think this is? (Present the metal link to
him) You can hold it if you want. Just tell me what you think, I want to hear exactly what
you have to say. So, dont be afraid of being wrong.
A: A rope with metal on the end
He directly answers what it appears to be so I decide to rephrase the question to see if he
can infer more about what the wire link is
S: And what do you think it is used for? (pause) Any guess you want
A: Maybefor a pulley
S: Ok cool! Do you have any other ideas it might be used for? (Long pause) No? (Aaron
shakes his head) Ok then my next question is, What do you think energy is?
A: Something that makes you run and um basically if you dont have energy, you would just be
sitting. Food basically gives you energy.
I suspected that he would tie energy into bodily functions. This goes with the concept that
children build their knowledge off of preconceived ideas (Bransford, 1999). Aaron has a
preconceived idea about humans and their energy level. The fact that he thinks that you
dont have energy when sitting means that he thinks energy involves motion.
S: Yeah so its like your body? (Aaron goes to keep talking) Okay go ahead
At this point I realized that I just needed to be quieter and pause in order to give Aaron
adequate time to think (Ginsburg, 1997)
A: If you eat the right foods, you get the right amount of energy
S: Ok, do you think things like cars need energy? Or your house? (Aaron shakes his head)
A: Yup
S: So is it a different kind of energy than what you would have?


A: Yeah
I am probing (Ginsburg, 1997) here to see if he understands that not just humans have
S: So you do think there are different types of energy?
A: Yeah
S: What do you think the different types are?
A: Electric energy, human energy, oh or food energy. I guess we get our energy from food or
From observing Aaron, you can tell that he is trying to process the ides that human
energy is the same as what he calls food energy. He initially states them as two different
types of energy and then links the two together.
S: Ok so, what comes into your house that makes the lights, and the TV and AC work?
Actually, I have one more energy question for youIm sorry. Does a book have energy?
A: Laughsno
S: No, you dont think a book has energy? What if you have this book on the edge of the
table? Does it have energy? (Shakes head no)
I used the echo and reflect method (Ginsburg, 1997) to encourage Aaron to rethink his
answer about the book. The fact that he still did not change is mind indicates that he has
not yet learned the concept of potential energy. This would not be a preconceived idea.
Potential energy may be something that is defined to us in school but some students may
struggle understanding what it actually is when learning about it because they think energy
involves motion.
S: So what comes into your house that makes the lights and the TV and everything work?
A: (Very long pausedeep thought) Oh I have another idea of what that could be (points to
metal link).
At this moment I can tell that transfer has occurred (Bransford, 1997). Aaron recognizes
from this question that electricity comes into our home and realizes that the wire link that I
presented to him earlier might actually be used for electricity. It takes him a little while to
process the fact that the questions I am presenting to him are actually linking to one
S: What could it be?


A: A wire
S: A wire? Thats a good guess too. So what runs in it? What goes in wires? Do you know
what wires are used for?
A: Uh..electric..electricity
S: Electricity okay. So what comes into your house that makes the wires and the TV and
everything work?
A: Electricity
S: So how do you think it comes into your home?
A: By wires
S: By wires. Okay. What kind of wires, do you see the wires?
A: Yeah
S: Where do you see the wires?
A: Outside. You dont see them inside.
S: You see them outside? (nods) Where outside?
I use echo and reflect (Ginsburg, 1997) to get Aaron to think further about the idea of the
A: Right by the shower. (Grace who is listening offers the information that they have an outside
S: By the showers. Are they pretty big wires?
A: Some are small some are big. There is a transformer at the back part of the house.
S: What do you think the transformer does?
A: It makes the electricity.
This is a great example of children having preconceived ideas that alter their learning
(Bransford, 1999). Aaron knows that the wires carry the electricity and go to a transformer.
Because the transformer is something he sees on a daily basis, he suspects that the
transformer must make the electricity to go into the wires. In order for this idea to be
overcome someone must explain to him what a transformer really does and then clarify
that our power comes from the power plants. Since he does not see power plants on a daily
basis this will be a much more abstract idea to Aaron.


S: Do you know what green energy is? (shakes his head no) Do you know what renewable
or wind, water, or sun power is? Have you ever heard of those? (pause) Its okay if you
havent, have you ever seen windmills before?
A: Yup
I am making sure that I dont discourage him from answering by telling him that it is okay
if he hasnt heard of the terms
S: And what do you think windmills do?
A: Uh..they produce energy from the wind and it spins and makes energy basically.
S: So would that be another type of energy?
A: Yeah.
S: Do you think the sun can do the same thing ?
A: Yupsolar panels. Dams can too.
S: So there is more energy types than you thought huh? So how do dams do it?
A: Theres this thing inside and the rest is like a wall and theres like a spinning thing and then
the water goes through and it spins the thing inside and makes power. And it lets the water on the
other side.
Transfer occurs between solar power, wind power, and hydroelectric power. Once he
realizes wind is a type of energy he easily can recall the ways in which the other sources are
used for energy. Learning is occurring here as well because he is realizing that energy is not
simply a bodily function. However, when Aaron describes how the dam is used for energy
he is unable to transfer the idea that the dam is what is used to make his electricity. This
shows that he doesnt fully understand the relationship between the two.
S: Well okay, what do you think powers a submarine?
A: Batteriessome do. Like the mini submarines.
S: What else do you think could power a submarineif you dont know at all its okay.
A: Probably an engine
S: An engine? What kind of fuel does an engine use?
A: Gasoline
At this point he realizes other things are used for energy like gasoline and batteries


S: Is there any other fuels it could use?

A: Diesel. I know two more but I just dont know the name.
S: You dont know the name? Okay. So what powers your car then?
A: A big battery that runs the engine which runs your car andfuel. Gasoline or diesel
considering what type of car it is
Here Aaron demonstrates the idea that engines need fuel but he does not quite understand
what the fuel is used for. He thinks the batteries are what are physically making the engine
go. This is another preconceived idea that will later have to be overcome.
S: What powers your calculator? You probably dont use calculators yet do you?
A: No
S: What do you think powers a calculator?
A: Battery haha or maybe they just put a really smart persons brain in there!
This shows that Aaron has warmed up to me as an interviewer and is comfortable making
jokes. He understands that he doesnt have to be 100% serious.
S: Haha I dont think they could pull our brains out! Ok and does your cell phone use
electricity. Oh you dont have a cell phone do you? Do you have a video game?
A: Yes.
Here I was planning on using a cell phone to ask the question but I then realized I should
rephrase the question because cell phones arent really relevant or practical for younger
children. Video games are something they are more likely accustomed to. This will make it
easier for them to make a connection between the game and electricity.
S: Does it use electricity?
A: Well a play station does
S: Ok a play station does. What about like a game boy?
A: Nothose dont run on electricity.
S: What do those run on?
A: Battery.
S: Do batteries use electricity?


A: Yeah because you have to charge them.

S: So would you say it uses electricity then?
A: Yeah
S: Just not right from the wall?
A: Yeah
In the series of questions above I am providing hints to get Aaron to realize that a battery is
actually using electricity.
S: The last one ishow long do you think you could live without electricity?
A: Well most people didnt have electricity a long time ago. So, fifty years.
S: A normal life?
A: Yeah like fifty years. People arent used to not having electricity.
S: But if you had to you could?
A: Yup!
This shows that Aaron recognizes that electricity is important to everyday life but if we had
to live without it we could.

Interviewee #2 Grace Murphy

I allowed for Grace to be in the room and listen to Aarons interview before hers. I was
curious if her brothers interview would play any role in her responses.
Shelby: Ok Grace so how old are you?
Grace: 6 almost 7
S: Ok cool. So what do you think that is used for Grace? (Grace is holding the metal link)
G: Uhhhh
S: You can say whatever you think(All I know is its all about electricity so yeahAaron)
G: Im thinking the same thing as him.


Aaron recognized that Grace was struggling with the question and offered a hint to her.
She took her older siblings opinion as correct. This shows that older siblings and your
surroundings can have a large effect on what you learn and how you perceive things.
S: What would you say if he didnt say that?
G: Uhhh I dont know
S: Ok haha. What do you think energy is?
G: Ummmmm
Grace is not yet able to formulate a definition of the word
S: Do you have energy?
G: YES!!!
S: Do you have lots of energy?
G: YESS!!! (jumps up and down)
Grace sees energy as something humans possess. This goes along with what I initially
suspected going into the interview
S: Do you think that dogs have energy?
G: YES! They run around like crazy.
S: What about your TV? Does it have energy?
G: Yes
S: What kind of energy?
G: Um electricity
Grace readily offered the word electricity. Aaron struggled to use the word electricity. I
think Grace having heard Aaron talk about electricity was anticipating the word as the
correct answer.
S: Do you think a book has energy?
G: Haha no
The fact that Grace also thinks that the book does not have energy shows that she has not
yet learned about the idea of potential energy.


S: Do you think there are different kinds of energy?

G: Yes
S: Like what?
G: Um person energy, TV energy, phone energy, submarine energy.
Grace sees everything that possesses energy as having its own individual type of energy.
She has not yet been able to transfer the idea that some things have the same type of
S: Ok. So, is electricity related to energy? Do you think it has do with it?
G: Uhhh kinda.
S: How is it kinda related to energy?
G: Because it is different from the other one.
S: Hows it different?
G: It does different stuffs.
Here I try to rephrase the question (Ginsburg, 1997) and allow for reflection because Grace
cannot offer an explanation of how energy and electricity are related. This shows that
Grace does not really understand the concepts and their connection.
S: So what comes in your house that makes all your lights work?
G: Um electricity
S: How do you make electricity?
G: By ummmim trying to think of the name
S: What does it look like if you dont know the name? You can describe it to me.
G: It has like wires
Here I probe for more information and offer Grace another way to get her point across.
When I ask her what it looks like I am encouraging her to visualize her answer which helps
her formulate the correct words.
S: What else does it have?
G: Power lines!


At this point I can tell that Grace is not really basing her responses off of what Aaron said
but is saying what she actually thinks. Aaron has said that the transformer makes
S: Power lines? Okay so you think they make the electricity?
G: Yeah!
S: And how long do you think you could live without it?
G: Uhhh forty.
S: Do you think you could live normal without it?
G: Yeah
S: Do you think there is different ways you can make electricity or do you think it is all
made in the power lines?
G: Uhhh peoples hands can do it on science.
I have to try not to laugh here because I am not expecting Graces not misconstrued
response. If I had laughed at this point Grace may have been hesitant to explain why
peoples hands make electricity.
S: How can our hands make electricity?
G: By putting different subjects in there
S: Different subjects in their hands? What do mean different subjects?
G: Like in a cup notyou know how you make a volcano?
S: You mean like the experiment volcano? And so they would put all the stuff in a volcanolike situation and mix it all up? Is that what you mean?
G: Yeah
S: So they would use different stuff?
G: Yeah! I had to make a volcano in my class.
S: You did have to make a volcano. So you think that is similar to making electricity?
G: Yup
In the series of questions above I used echo and reflect (Ginsburg, 1997) several times. I
struggled to understand exactly what Grace is talking about and hope that by having her


reflect and hear what she has said, she might change her description to something I will
better understand. I do not tell Grace at any point that she is wrong because I want to see
why she thinks volcanos make electricity.
S: Why do you think thats similar?
G: I dont know.
S: Okay. So you dont know what green energy is right? Do you think you can use the
water or the sun for electricity?
G: Not the sun but the water.
S: How can you use the water?
G: Well like a volcano, we added water to it and..
S: What did you add water to?
G: The things that you already put in there
S: So you already put chemicals in there?
G: Yeah
S: And it bubbled and stuff? So you think that is like making energy?
G: Yeah kind of
I think Grace is mixed up between the chemical reaction in a baking soda volcano
experiment, energy and electricity. Her teacher may have told her that the reaction in the
volcano has energy and she construed the idea to think that volcanos are like making
S: Do you know what a submarine is?
G: Yes
S: What do you think makes a submarine go?
G: The energy that is in it and the gas
Again, Grace recognizes that energy is necessary for motion and that machines use gas to
go nut cannot connect the two concepts.
S: What makes a car go?
G: Umm gas and like the wheels


S: Do you think the wheels have electricity?

G: Um no, Oh and the steering wheel because it drives the car.
S: Does the steering wheel have electricity?
G: Hmm no
S: Do you think anything in the car has electricity?
G: In the car it does.
S: But the car has energy right?
G: Yeah
S: Do the wheels have energy?
G: You already asked me that
S: Ok what powers a calculator? You never use calculators do you? (Shakes head no) Do
you play hand video games ever? (shakes head no) Have you ever used an ipod? (Shakes
head no) Ok have you used a cell phone before?
G: Yes.
This is a perfect example of how transfer varies depending on if the child is familiar with
something or not.
S: Do you think cell phones have electricity?
G: Yes because you stick them in the wall and you power back up.
S: Ok that was the last one!


Bransford, J. (1999). How people learn brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.:
National Academy Press.
ElBaradei, M. (2008, September). Tackling the Global Energy Crisis. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
Energy Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2014, from
Ginsburg, H. (1997). Entering the child's mind: The clinical interview in psychological research
and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.