In keeping with the theme of alternate models of access to STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education, how about learning science through theater? A study published this past week in Physics Education Research found that students who role-played energy as it flowed and changed in different situations were better able to visualize and understand concepts about energy. “Energy Theater,” as their project is called, makes use of participationist theory of learning, and seems to have positive results. “While energy can be precisely defined mathematically, it is often difficult to grasp intuitively,” notes the press release. The study found that “personifying energy allowed students to grapple with difficult ideas about how energy works.”
So what does “Energy Theater” look like? Groups of students play the part of energy in different situations, and indicate with hand gestures what form of energy they are (chemical, thermal, etc.). Different objects (such as a hand pushing a box sitting on a table) are represented by loops of rope on the ground. Student move from object to object (such as from the ‘hand’ to the ‘box) while changing their gesture to ‘energy of motion’, demonstrating energy moving between those objects. Apparently, “this metaphor can help learners think about how a fixed amount of energy can flow between different objects.” Students work in groups and must decide how to act out a particular scenario.
The study notes that after participating in Energy Theater, students where “able to generate very detailed energy tracking diagrams after the activity. Analysis of the groups’ conversations as they work to script out the ‘play’ also demonstrates the complexity of the ideas that the group is working to understand.” It should be noted that the study’s participants were K-12 teachers, not K-12 students themselves.
The potential of Energy Theater is not limited to energy – the study suggests that such science theater may be useful for teaching other ideas in physical science. You can read more about Energy Theater on their website.