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Introducing Joule’s Paddle Wheel Experiment in the Teaching of Energy: Why and How?

Abstract : History of science provides access to a reservoir of meaningful experiments that can be studied and reproduced in classrooms. This is the case of Joule’s paddle-wheel experiment which displays the potentiality to help students improve their understanding of the concept of energy. This experiment has been mentioned in many physics textbooks during the 20th century. Recently, it has received renewed attention by several researchers in science education. However, the accounts of Joule’s experiment proposed by these researchers are at variance with each other: either in terms of equivalences, in terms of energy change, or in terms of energy transformation and Rankine’s definition. This raises several questions: What is their respective contribution to the understanding of the historical emergence of the energy concept, and to the understanding of the very meaning of this concept? Are these accounts concurrent? Eventually, how can they help for the teaching energy? To investigate these questions, historical details concerning this experiment are first considered. It is stressed that Joule did not made use of the concept of energy, and instead described his experiment in terms of conversion of living force into heat. The three accounts of Joule’s experiment are then presented and their respective contribution discussed. By emphasizing different aspects of this experiment, they are shown to suggest different strategies for teaching energy. For all that, they are not contradictory and, considered together, they bring to light the great potential of Joule’s experiment to foster students understanding of this concept.
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Contributor : Manuel Bächtold <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, April 28, 2020 - 2:24:59 PM
Last modification on : Friday, February 5, 2021 - 10:06:07 AM



Manuel Bächtold. Introducing Joule’s Paddle Wheel Experiment in the Teaching of Energy: Why and How?. Foundations of Science, Springer Verlag, 2020, ⟨10.1007/s10699-020-09664-2⟩. ⟨hal-02557079⟩



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