Energy is a central topic in physics and a key concept for understanding the physical, biological and technological worlds. It is a complex topic with multiple connections with different areas of science and with social, environmental and philosophical issues. In this paper we discuss some aspects of the teaching and learning of the energy concept, and report results of research on this issue. To immerse science teaching into the context of scientific culture and of the students’ cultural world, we propose to select specific driving issues that promote motivation for the construction of science concepts and models. We describe the design and evaluation of a teaching learning path developed around the issue of greenhouse effect and global warming. The experimentation with high school students has shown that the approach based on driving issues promotes students’ engagement toward a deeper understanding of the topic and favours further insight. The evolution of students’ answers indicates a progressively more correct and appropriate use of the concepts of heat, radiation, temperature, internal energy, a distinction between thermal equilibrium and stationary non equilibrium conditions, and a better understanding of greenhouse effect. Based on the results of the experimentation and in collaboration with the teachers involved, new materials for the students have been prepared and a new cycle of implementation, evaluation and refinement has been activated with a larger group of teachers and students. This type of systematic and long term collaboration with teachers can help to fill the gap between the science education research and the actual school practice.
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