Many students strongly link energy with movement and/or force

Energy and Thermal Physics | Forces and Motion


Many students tend to associate energy with movement or force, leading to confusion in using terms like energy, power, and force interchangeably. They struggle to differentiate between energy and work, often stating that "energy is a force" or that "a force is the ability to do work." Additionally, students may mistakenly claim that an object at rest has no energy, using phrases such as "no movement" or "everything is inert".

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

  • Two complementary descriptions (11-14)

    It is important to recognise from the very outset that this description of the action of fuels, in terms of energy and energy stores, is theoretical or abstract in nature. It doesn't belong to discussion in the everyday, or lived-in world. This resource discusses energy and energy stores in terms of the lived-in world.

    View Resource
  • Getting to know the joule and the watt (11-16)

    Students use a hand-turned generator to gain direct experience in measuring energy transfer and to get a ‘feel’ for the size of a joule and the size of a watt.

    View Resource


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

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  • Papadouris, N., Constantinou, C., and Kyratsi, K. () Students' Use of the Energy Model to Account for Changes in Physical Sytems, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45 (4), 444-469.

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  • Finegold, M. and Trumper, R. () Categorizing pupils' explanatory frameworks in energy as a means to the development of a teaching approach, Research in Science Education, 19, 97-110.

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  • Legett, M. () Lessons that non-scientists can teach us about the concept of energy: a human-centred approach. Physics Education, 38, Joondalup, 130.

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  • Trumper, R. () A Longitudinal Study of Physics Students' Conceptions on Energy in Pre-Service Training for High School Teachers Journal of Science Education and Technology, 7, (4), 311-318.

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  • Loverude, M. E. () Student Understanding Of Gravitational Potential Energy And The Motion Of Bodies In A Gravitational Field, AIP Conference Proceedings, 77, 790, California State University Fullerton, American Institute of Physics.

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