Lee (2014)

This study examined 20 pre-service elementary teachers' (PSET) understanding of energy, heat transfer and insulation pre- and post-intervention. The research was carried out by a university-based researcher in the USA, using qualitative analysis of interviews and quiz data.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • Discuss conceptual change and misconceptions to deepen scientific understanding.

Learners’ ideas

  • Unclear ideas about energy, forces and work, giving answers such as “Energy is a force. A force is an ability to do work”.
  • Some PSETs believed that energy could be created, giving examples such as “creating wind energy, solar energy and light energy".
  • Only hot objects had energy and they confused heat with the word “hot”.
  • Some did not consider the material chosen for an insulator to be significant in thermal conduction. For example, “If the container was thick, then it would be a good insulator without considering the material used for making it".
  • Some participants believed that the containers for cold and hot drinks need to be different.
  • Some described flows of ‘heat’ and ‘cold’; for example, “the coldness and the heat moved back and forth until the lemonade cooled off".
  • Some thought that there was no energy in ice cubes as they were cold.

Study Structure


The general aim of the study is given as:

  • Explore misconceptions held by pre-service elementary school teachers and use a proposed model to resolve them.

More specifically, the following three questions are discussed:

  1. What conceptions do PSETs hold about the concept of energy as heat, heat transfer and insulation?
  2. What misconceptions do PSETs have?
  3. Can the PSET's misconceptions be reconciled? If so, in what way?

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected via a pre- and post-assessment quiz; practical task; post-investigation assessment probe and individual, semi-structured interviews. The pre- and post-assessment quizzes and interviews were designed for this study while the assessment probe originates from earlier work: Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol.2 by Keeley, Eberle, & Tugel, (2007).

The task is a commonly performed US classroom practical for 4th-grade students and originates in TIMSS Performance Assessment (Harmon, M., 1999).

Intervention between the quizzes was based on the ED3U Conceptual Change Model (McComas, 1995) integrated with Posner, Strike, Hewson and Gertzog’s (1982) conditions for accommodations for the designed instruction and discussions.

Results were made using simple qualitative analysis of written and audio results, and a simple comparison of quiz response data to the US national average.

Details of the sample

The study sample consisted of 20 pre-service elementary school teachers. Sample selection was via convenience.


Harmon, M. (1999), Performance Assessment in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study — An International Perspective, Studies in Educational Evaluation, 25 (3), 243-262.

Keeley, P., Eberle, F. and Tugel, J. (2007), Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol 2., Arlington, VA: NSTA Press. 

McComas, W.F. (1995), ED3U model. Class notes taken by Richard Shope. Project 2061, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Benchmarks for science literacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Posner, G. J. et al. (1982), Accommodation of a Scientific Conception: Toward a Theory of Conceptual Change, Science Education, 66 (2), 211-227.

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