This dissertation presents a body of research that addresses the widespread lack of energy literacy among secondary students in New York State, and the broader impacts of energy curricula with respect to improving students’ energy literacy. Energy literacy, which encompasses broad content knowledge as well as affective and behavioral characteristics, will empower students to make responsible and appropriate energyrelated choices and embrace changes in the way we harness and consume energy; students who are energy literate will be more capable of engaging in thoughtful energyrelated decisions as they become adults.
A measurement scale has been developed to assess secondary students’ energy literacy, following established psychometric principles from educational and social psychology research. The Energy Literacy Questionnaire provides a quantitative measure of students’ energy-related knowledge, affect (attitudes, values), and behaviors. Internal reliability consistencies for the cognitive, affective and behavioral subscales, measured by Cronbach’s α, range from 0.75 to 0.83, satisfying generally acceptable limits for educational surveys. The instrument’s validity was supported with contrasted-groups and developmental-age progression comparisons, as well as factor analyses. Content and face validity were supported with an instrument review process that involved a diverse panel of energy- and energy-education experts.
The instrument has been used to measure baseline levels of energy literacy among 3708 secondary students in New York State, USA. Results indicate that students are concerned about energy problems (affective subscale mean 73% of the maximum attainable score), yet relatively low cognitive (42% correct) and behavioral (65% of the maximum) scores suggest that students may lack the knowledge and skills they need to effectively contribute toward solutions. High school (HS) students scored significantly better than middle school (MS) students on the cognitive subscale; differences were greatest on topics included in New York State educational standards, and less on topics related to “practical” energy knowledge such as ways to save energy. Despite knowledge gains, there was a significant drop in energy conservation behavior between the MS and HS students. Intercorrelations among the survey subscales indicate that energy-related behaviors are more strongly related to affect than to knowledge.
A subsample of middle school students (n=865) completed the Energy Literacy Questionnaire at the beginning (pre) and end (post) of their middle level physical science course. Students demonstrated significant pre/post cognitive gains, with no change in their energy-related affect or behavior scores. Again, cognitive gains were greater on standards-based questions, and less on practical questions that related to everyday life. Students exposed to energy curricula that incorporated extensive use of projects and hands-on learning demonstrated greater gains and higher post scores in energy-related knowledge, particularly on items that related to topics that were more practical, rather than scientific, in nature. Relative to the rest of the student sample, students in projectoriented classes also felt more strongly that saving energy is important, and reportedly talked more with their families at home about saving energy. Qualitative outcomes indicate that the majority of the project-oriented students experienced positive energy-related affective and behavioral changes as a result of their energy curricula.
One group of project-oriented students who were academically challenged demonstrated significantly greater gains in their quantitative energy-related affect, self-efficacy, and behavioral scores relative to the rest of the student sample, despite significantly lower average cognitive scores. This special group of students achieved higher gains relative to the rest of the student sample on some of the cognitive items that again were more practical and oriented toward their lives outside of school.
These findings support the complex relationship between knowledge, affect, and behavior, underscoring the importance of using educational strategies that focus not only on cognitive development but engage the whole student in the learning process. The results also provide evidence for using educational pedagogies that incorporate projects and activities that relate the content students are learning to their lives outside of school, as a means of improving students’ broad conceptual understanding of practical energy topics. Overall, the results of this study support the need for wider implementation of project-based energy education programs for improving students’ energy literacy.