Many students can't explain maintained thermal equilibrium as a balance between heat input and loss.

Energy and Thermal Physics


They can struggle to explain maintained thermal equilibrium (an object being kept at a fixed temperature higher than its surroundings) in terms of a balance between heat (or energy) input and loss – but use instead of simple cause-effect reasoning focusing on the strength of the heater.

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York BEST website.

Resources to Address This

  • Hot houses (11-14)

    This activity models energy in a house, providing an environment to explore ideas. Students try to achieve a chosen goal for the house based on thermal ideas, such as convection, conduction and radiation. It is also possible to introduce the idea of thermal equilibrium.

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  • Wiser, M. () Use of History of Science to Understand and Remedy Students' Misconceptions About Heat and Temperature, in David N. Perkins, Judah L. Schwartz, Mary Maxwell West, and Martha Stone Wiske (Eds), Software Goes to School: Teaching for Understanding with New Technologies. Oxford University Press, New York.

    Teachers should recognize student misconceptions as internally coherent alternative theories, not isolated 'incorrect' ideas. A holistic approach using models presenting the textbook theory as a network of interrelated concepts can effectively address these alternative theories. This book chapter explores students' ideas about heat and temperature and how to tackle them with such an approach.

    Paper digest

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