Date of this Version


Document Type



Utilizing an energy-as-substance conceptual metaphor as a central feature of the introductory physics curriculum affords students a wealth of conceptual resources for reasoning about energy conservation, storage, and transfer. This paper first establishes the utility and function of a conceptual metaphor in developing student understanding of energy concepts. Then a curricular framework with a prominent energy-as-substance conceptual metaphor is described. The curricular framework involves both a reorganization of the content of introductory physics as well as a renewed focus. Reorganizing includes treating energy early and spiraling back to energy treatments. The refocusing includes emphasizing energy’s role in modeling phenomena and attending to the tools for representing energy conservation, storage, and transfer. Implementation of the energy framework is then described in the context of a Modeling Instruction course. Finally, qualitative evidence is presented showing student use of energy conceptual resources which are promoted in the curricular implementation.


This article is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article’s title, journal citation, and DOI.

doi: 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.020106

Included in

Physics Commons