Energy is a disciplinary core idea and a cross-cutting concept in the K-12 Framework for Science Education1 and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).2 As numerous authors3,4 point out, the energy model in these standards emphasizes the connections between energy and systems. Using energy ideas to interpret or make sense of phenomena means tracking transfers of energy across systems (including objects and fields) as phenomena unfold. To support students in progressing towards this goal, numerous representations—both static and dynamic—that describe the flow of energy across systems exist.3,5-7 Static representations work well to describe phenomena where the flow of energy is unidirectional and the dynamics are not a focus but struggle to represent circular energy flows and the temporal order of complex, dynamic phenomena.5 Existing dynamic representations like Energy Theater6 are usually qualitative, i.e., they represent energy in ways that differentiate between larger or smaller rates of transfer but do not provide a more detailed quantitative picture. In this article, we present how an existing, empirically tested, static representation called Energy Transfer Model (ETM)3 can be turned into a dynamic representation that is quantitatively accurate using the freely available 3D animation programming environment GlowScript ( To do so, we first summarize the central ideas in a model of energy that emphasizes the idea of energy transfer between systems, and we describe how the ETM represents those ideas. Then, we introduce the dynamic ETM and explain how it goes beyond the limitations of its static counterpart and how its quantitative accuracy adds to existing dynamic representations. Lastly, we discuss how the dynamic ETM can be used to integrate computational thinking into the physics classroom.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Physics Teacher
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)583-585
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2022
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ID: 1637974