Many students think of temperature as a measure of the amount of heat an object contains, and that the temperature of objects is related to their size

Energy and Thermal Physics


For example, the temperature of a large block of ice is lower than that of a smaller block.

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

  • Temperature and particles related to energy (11-14)

    • Temperature is termed an intensive quality since it does not depend upon the number of particles (or mass of substance) present.
    • Thermal energy is an extensive quantity since it depends upon the number of particles (or mass of substance) present.
    View Resource


  • 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) 19-26.

    Students can struggle to grasp the concepts of heat and temperature, often confusing the two together. This Portuguese paper discusses a teaching model focused on fostering conceptual change about heat and temperature in students aged 14-15.

    Paper digest

  • Pathare, S., Huli, S., Nachane, M., Ladage, S. and Pradhan, H. () Understanding thermal equilibrium through activities. Physics Education, 50, (2) 146-158.

    This research paper reports the success of a module of five activities designed to develop undergraduate students’ understanding of thermal equilibrium. These activities were designed to be incremental and develop the use of a liquid flow analogy. The research was carried out by a university-based researcher in India.

    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

  • 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.

    Key paper digest

  • Paik, S.H., Cho, B.K. and 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

  • 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

  • Baser, M. and Geban, O. () Effectiveness of conceptual change instruction on understanding of heat and temperature concepts. Research in Science and Technological Education, 25, (1) 115-133.

    Turkish university researchers studied the effects of two teaching methods (including one instructional, conceptual change-oriented), on students' (ages 11-12) understanding of heat and temperature concepts and attitudes towards science, in addition to gender differences.

    Paper digest

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