In this paper, we present and discuss a teaching strategy for the concept of energy at high school based on history and philosophy of science (HPS) and dealing with Joule’s experiment (Joule J. Philos Mag 3(31):173–176, 1847a) and Rankine’s definition (Rankine W. Edinburgh New Philos J 3:121–141, 1855). This sequence has been developed and implemented in the frame of a collaborative and iterative work involving researchers and teachers. On the one hand, we investigated the extent to which it makes sense for teachers to introduce HPS in their teaching of energy. Video recordings of classroom practices and semi-structured interviews show that HPS can help teachers to think and develop links between the different activities dealing with energy; moreover, they consider the activities based on HPS both as a very good means for raising students’ interest in energy and as helping them to understand this concept. On the other hand, we assessed students’ understanding of energy using a quantitative method based on pre- and post-tests along with qualitative analysis of videos produced by students. The outcomes suggest that the teaching strategy was effective for many students regarding their understanding of both the notion of energy transformation and the principle of energy conservation. In the light of these outcomes, we discuss the possible contribution of HPS for conceiving new strategies for science teaching.