Energy is an important concept in all natural sciences, and a challenging one for school science education. Students’ conceptual knowledge of energy is often low and misconceptions persist. Educational research in science and mathematics shows that learning through depictive representations and learning from errors, based on the theory of negative knowledge, can potentially foster students’ knowledge of abstract concepts such as energy. Thus, here we propose an instructional approach that combines these two strategies to foster conceptual knowledge of energy. It involves inserting an error, in a biological energy flow diagram, that we derived from two prevalent misconceptions about energy: that plants get some of their energy from the soil and energy cycles in an ecosystem. The approach’s effect on students’ conceptual knowledge of energy was tested in an intervention study with pre-post design and 304 ninth-grade students (M = 14.79 years). The results indicate that learning with an incorrect diagram potentially supports the acquisition of conceptual knowledge of energy more than learning with a correct diagram. Larger gains in conceptual knowledge were achieved by students who successfully identified and explained the error. Thus, the proposed instructional approach holds promise for improving energy teaching.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalCBE - Life Sciences Education
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018
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ID: 817884