Most students are aware that a hot object can ‘heat up’ another object, and think of heat as something that can move from one object to another

Energy and Thermal Physics


Due to our everyday language around temperature and heat, such as the term 'heat up', it is easy for students to mistake a temperature increase in an object due to heating (a transfer of energy) for a movement of 'heat' from one object to another (or from a hot part of an object to other parts of the object). 

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception and start to address it.

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

Resources to Address This

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

    To start off with, let's think about warming solids, taking care not to warm them so much that they melt and change from solid to liquid. As you warm the solid object, imagine that you keep a record of how much energy is shifted to the thermal store (no need to worry about how the energy is actually measured) and also that you measure the gradual rise in temperature of the object.

    View Resource
  • Mixing hot and cold water (11-16)

    This resource involves mixing two masses of water at different temperatures to discuss energy transfer.

    View Resource


  • 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.

    Pre-service teachers can struggle with their understanding of energy, even those who have a prior physics degree. This may be because they lack a coherent model for energy with links to other parts of physics, particularly heating and forces. Alternatively, the teachers may use ideas about different “forms” of energy and conversion between them. This paper concludes that there is an urgent need for more discussion of energy, and concept building, during teacher training. 

    Paper digest

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