Lubben et al. (1998)

South African researchers explored 147 students’ use of cultural metaphoric reasoning in classifying everyday situations as hot or cold, as is part of Sotho cultural tradition, and how this develops misconceptions of heating. 


  • Use classroom activities exploring the effectiveness of the same type of insulator for a range of cold and hot situations.
  • Explicitly discuss students’ use of analogies for concepts and processes.
  • Assist students in understanding the features of the kinetic model of matter by using additional activities, such as drama to imitate atoms being heated up. This would emphasize the continuous motion of particles before heating, and the expansion of the solid object by the increased motion of the atoms.

Learners’ ideas

  • Some students believed atoms changed size upon heating.
  • Many students were confused about atomic behaviour with an increase in temperature, believing that atoms may multiply, melt, change colour, or 'become hot'.
  • Some students believed atoms began to move due to a temperature rise.
  • Some students believed that wood does not conduct heat.
  • Some students believed that metal conducts 'coldness'.
  • Some students believed that an object's insulating properties were dependent on its final temperature.

Study Structure


This study explores students’ use of cultural metaphoric reasoning in classifying everyday situations as hot or cold, as is part of Sotho cultural tradition. It documents the extent to which such metaphoric reasoning is related to the use of scientific (mis)conceptions of heating.

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected using pre- and post-intervention studies using written probes to document the coincidence of cultural metaphoric reasoning with misconceptions about heat. Data were coded according to a peer-validated coding scheme to identify metaphoric reasoning patterns. Post hoc interviews were conducted with respondents to verify researcher inferences from their responses.

Two sets of paper-and-pencil written probes were administered before and after a four-week teaching programme about heat and temperature. The first set of probes, designed to identify cultural metaphoric reasoning, was developed for this study. The second set, designed to expose misconceptions about heat and temperature, was adapted from items developed by the Assessment Performance Unit (APU, 1988) and the Procedural and Conceptual Knowledge Project (Millar, Lubben, Gott & Duggan, 1994).

Details of the sample

The sample consisted of one full cohort of the UNIFY (University of the North Foundation Year) project, comprising 147 students. It is described as "a highly selective sample of adolescents, Sotho and non-Sotho speakers, who displayed potential for achievement in science."

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