Chu et al. (2012)

Singaporean and Australian researchers studied 515 Korean high school students (with an age range of 14 to 17 years) to assess thermal misconceptions and evaluate the effectiveness of their tool.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • To understand the view that heat is energy that moves between objects at different temperatures, students would first need to differentiate between heat and 'cold', temperature and heat, and fully appreciate the idea of thermal equilibrium.
  • A proper understanding of thermal concepts requires a shift among students such that they categorise heat as a process rather than a substance.

Learners’ ideas

  • The boiling point of water is always 100°C.
  • The temperature at the boiling point does not remain constant.
  • Steam above boiling water in a kettle is at a temperature greater than 100°C.
  • Ice is always at 0°C.
  • Water cannot be at 0°C.
  • Two different temperatures can be added up and averaged.
  • Temperature can be transferred from one body to another.
  • There is no limit to the lowest temperature that can be reached.
  • Materials like wool can warm things up.
  • ‘Hot' and 'cold' are different, not at opposite ends of a continuum.
  • Heat is proportional to temperature.
  • The amount of heat in an object depends on the material that the object is made up of
  • A metal ruler feels cooler than a wooden one because metal is a good radiator.
  • Objects at different temperatures that are in contact with each other do not necessarily move towards the same temperature.
  • Heating always increases the temperature.
  • Some materials are difficult to heat; they are more resistant to heating.

Further suggestions

  • The use of context-based curricula supports learning.

Study Structure


This study had three aims:

  1. determine the underlying conceptual structure of the thermal concept evaluation (TCE),
  2. investigate students’ conceptual understanding of thermal concepts in everyday contexts across several school years,
  3. analyse the variables, such as school year, science subjects currently being studied and science topics previously studied, that influence students’ thermal conceptual understanding.

Evidence collection

The pre-existing Thermal Concept Evaluation (TCE) was repurposed for this study and translated into Korean. A pilot study was carried out to ensure this translation was fit for purpose.

Various statistical analyses (PCA, MANOVA, eta squared) were carried out on the TCE to quantify its use as a diagnostic tool. Results of the TCE were organised into 'conceptual groups' picked out by this statistical analysis, and subsequent analyses (Pearson, MANOVA and eta squared) were performed to identify correlations between factors such as school year, science subjects currently studied, a previous study of thermal concepts, and whether or not misconceptions in one area correlated with misconceptions in others.

Details of the sample

The sample consists of 515 Korean high school students from years 10, 11 and 12, with an age range of 14 to 17 years.

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