Geourgiou and Sharma (2012)

Taiwanese researchers performed a qualitative analysis of first-year undergraduate students’ thermal physics conceptions. It identifies a range of misconceptions, some of which persist despite higher levels of physics education (17-18 years).


  • Educators must pay attention to the correct use of language surrounding "heat", "insulation" and "conductivity".
  • It may be advantageous to use the concept of ‘thermal conductivity’ to replace more general terms like ‘insulation’ and ‘conductivity’.

Learners’ ideas

  • The idea that ‘heat is a substance’ was described in answers by about 30% of students regardless of prior education in physics.
  • The idea that ‘cold is a substance and can be transferred’ was described by around 30% of students with lower levels of physics education, 20% of those with intermediate levels and only 4% of those with higher levels.
  • The concept that ‘touch can determine temperature’ was described by around 20% of students with lower levels and intermediate levels and only 5% of those with higher levels.
  • The idea that ‘temperature can be transferred’ was described by 3% to 5% of all students.
  • About 30% of the students on average confirmed the well-documented confusion regarding the word ‘heat’ and its definition in physics as a process and not a substance.

Study Structure


The study aims to determine how learners' physics education and use of language influence their understanding of two everyday thermal phenomena.

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected via a simple survey consisting of 2 questions and each involving a concept choice followed by a written explanation.

All data were analysed within the NVivo programme to allow sophisticated qualitative analysis with increased flexibility and objectivity and to support a relatively unguided exploration (Bazeley, 2007).

Details of the sample

The sample consisted of 5358 first-year university students (aged 17-18, with a range of levels of previous education in physics) and 63 first-year primary education students.

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