Paik, Cho and Go (2007)

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.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • Increased scientific and mathematical education (such as teaching students what an "average temperature is" or how the two temperatures of substances meet in the middle) leads to an increase in correct responses to problems.
  • Teachers should prudently use scientific terminology in their classes.

Learners’ ideas

  • Students’ conception of temperature is sometimes related to material size. For example ‘‘a bigger ice cube accepts less coldness due to its size, and a smaller one absorbs coldness fast.’’
  • Students may attempt to add temperatures when substances are mixed e.g., water at 50°C added to water at 30°C will produce water at 80°C.
  • Some students can consider a material as being naturally warm or cold and hence cause melting or cooling of other materials regardless of their temperature.
  • Most students could not distinguish between the rate of energy transfer and temperature.
  • Students struggle with defining temperature; instead, they state how it is measured. For example, ‘‘temperature is something that you express in degrees".

Further suggestions

  • Teachers should offer opportunities for students to seek alternative conceptions by providing related activities in more varied situations.

Study Structure


The stated aim of the study was to shed light on the conceptions that young students have of heat and temperature.

Evidence collection

Data for the study was collected via a cross-age survey using interview questions constructed by three researchers, based on previous studies of heat and temperature conceptions and science education-related literature.

The interview included seven questions:

  • two questions on the conceptions of temperature,
  • two on thermal insulation,
  • and three on heat equilibrium. 

All seven questions were selected for research usage after a preliminary screening involving 16 students: two from each age group in the range of 4- to 11-year-olds.

The researchers calculated the frequency and percentage per age of student answers to each question. Then the types of student conceptions were categorized through a consultation process after three researchers individually analysed the contents.

Details of the sample

The study sample consisted of 154 students from an elementary school and kindergarten chosen by opportunity. Students were selected by teachers at the schools based on the criteria that they “displayed average levels of achievement, aptitude, and communication abilities”.

  • From the kindergarten, the sample contained 14 4-year-olds.
  • From the elementary school, 20 students of each age (from 5 to 11 years) were selected regardless of their year group.
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