Many students have difficulties in distinguishing between the ideas of ‘temperature’ and ‘heat’ and in using these terms appropriately

Energy and Thermal Physics


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

  • Energy and temperature  (11-14) 

    The energy in the thermal store is not the same as the temperature of an object. This diagram gives a summary of the link between the two terms.

    View Resource
  • Heat and temperature (11-16)

    One important aspect of students’ growing understanding of energy ideas involves sorting out the ideas of heat and temperature (hotness or coldness).

    View Resource


  • Chu, H., Treagust, D. F., Yeo, S. and Zadnik, M., () Evaluation of Students' Understanding of Thermal Concepts in Everyday Contexts. International Journal of Science Education, 34, (10) 1509-1534.

    This research finds a wide range of misconceptions about temperature and energy held by secondary school students, revealing that the students can have a very confused understanding of thermal physics and how energy is transferred by thermal processes such as conduction and radiation. To tackle these ideas students need to be taught clear links between energy transfer and heating, based on the initial idea of transfer of energy from ‘hot’ to ‘cold’ materials, and moving towards the idea of thermal equilibrium.

    Paper digest

  • 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

  • Lee, C. K., () A Conceptual Change Model for Teaching Heat Energy, Heat Transfer and Insulation. Science Education International, 25, (4) 417-437.

    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.

    Paper digest

  • Louisa, M., Veiga, F. C. S., Costa Pereira, D. J. V. and Maskill, R., () Teachers' language and pupils' ideas in science lessons: Can teachers avoid reinforcing wrong ideas? International Journal of Science Education, 11 (4) 465-479.

    This research identifies some of the most common misconceptions about the relationship between energy, heating, and temperature. These easily categorised issues are found to be held by both students and their secondary school teachers. The paper provides some clear approaches to overcoming the ideas which limit successful learning, linking closely to the “energy stores” approach to describing energy and energy transfer pathways.

    Paper digest

  • Paik, S.H., Cho, B.K., Go Y.M. () Korean 4- to 11-Year-Old Student Conceptions of Heat and Temperature. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44, (2), 284–302, published online in Wiley Interscience.

    This paper from South Korea presents the findings of a study on young students' conceptions of heat and temperature. Interviews with 4-11-year-olds revealed evolving understandings, showing instances where younger students outperformed in predicting changes. They suggest that increased mathematical education and the use of scientific terminology can help improve understanding.

    Paper digest

  • Geourgiou, H. and Sharma, M.D. () University students understanding of Thermal Physics in everyday contexts. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10, 1119-1142.

    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).

    Paper digest

  • Christian H. Kautz, Paula R. L. Heron, Michael E. Loverude and Lillian C. Mc Dermott., () Student understanding of the gas law, part 2: A microscopic perspective, American Journal of Physics, 73 (11) 1064 - 1071.

    Two concurrently published papers detail the results of a long-term US-based study revealing students' challenges with the ideal gas law and misconceptions about microscopic processes. These identified misconceptions guided university course enhancements over several years.

    Paper digest

  • Harrison, A. G, Grayson, D. J. and Treagus, D. F. () Investigating a grade 11 student's evolving conceptions of heat and temperature, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36 (1) 55-87.

    This research identifies unclear concepts of heat and temperature in students aged 16-17 and shows how an eight-week course, using Ausubel's meaningful learning theory, clarified these ideas.

    Paper digest

  • Kesidou, S and Duit, R () Students' Conceptions of the Second Law of Thermodynamics - An Interpretive Study. Journal Of Research In Science Teaching, 30, (1) 85-106.

    Research shows that even the most able secondary school students are often unable to distinguish between the concepts of temperature and heat and their link to energy. The research shows that tackling the difference between heat and temperature is vital in understanding energy transfer by thermal processes, like conduction and convection. Using this approach, students can link to other energy transfers, stores, and energy conservation to build up a complete picture of energy.

    Paper digest

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