Many students think of heat as an intangible substance that can flow into and out of objects

Energy and Thermal Physics


This idea can present itself in many ways in a student's understanding. Examples include:

  • Metals trap or absorb cold
  • Dark objects attract heat
  • Heat and cold are substances residing in objects

What the ideas have in common is the reference to heat as a substance to which they can attribute fluid behaviour. 

Resources to Address This

  • Warming things up (11-14)

    This resource explores what happens to the behaviour of the particles as an object is warmed.

    View Resource
  • Heat is not a substance (11-14)

    Some teachers ban the use of the word heat in their teaching and insist that pupils refer to the heating or warming process. 

    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).

    Kinetic theory describes the energy of an object as being due to the random motion of its molecules. If you give more energy to be shared out amongst the atoms and molecules of some piece of matter, it usually gets hotter. But ‘hotness’ is not energy. 

    View Resource


  • Schnittka, C. and Bell, R., () Engineering Design and Conceptual Change in Science: Addressing thermal energy and heat transfer in eighth grade. International Journal of Science Education, 33 (13)


    Paper digest

  • Thomaz, M. F., Malaquias, I. M., Valente, M. C. and Antunes, M. J. () An attempt to overcome alternative conceptions related to heat and temperature. Physics Education, 30 (1)


    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)


    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,


    Paper digest

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


    Paper digest

  • 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)


    Paper digest

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