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Student views of macroscopic and microscopic energy in physics and biology Documents

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Student views of macroscopic and microscopic energy in physics and biology 

written by Benjamin W. Dreyfus, Edward F. Redish, and Jessica Watkins

Energy concepts are fundamental across the sciences, yet these concepts can be fragmented along disciplinary boundaries, rather than integrated into a coherent whole. To teach physics effectively to biology students, we need to understand students' disciplinary perspectives. We present interview data from an undergraduate student who displays multiple stances towards the concept of energy. At times he views energy in macroscopic contexts as a separate entity from energy in microscopic (particularly biological) contexts, while at other times he uses macroscopic physics phenomena as productive analogies for understanding energy in the microscopic biological context, and he reasons about energy transformations between the microscopic and macroscopic scales. This case study displays preliminary evidence for the context dependence of students' ability to translate energy concepts across scientific disciplines. This points to challenges that must be taken into account in developing curricula for biology students that integrate physics and biology concepts.

Published February 6, 2012
Last Modified April 24, 2012

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