Some students interpret conservation to mean energy must reappear in its original form

Energy and Thermal Physics


Many students also reason that energy will be lost in physical processes (even those who recognise the principle of conservation of energy).

Resources to Address This

  • Shifting and conserving energy (11-14)

    This resource involves a discussion of lifting an object, with the following prompts:

    1. Can emptying the second store (associated with the ornament in a higher position) do an equivalent job to that done by emptying the first (the chemical store associated with the muscles of your arm)?
    2. If not, what happens to the energy not shifted from the first store to the second?
    3. Is it possible to reduce this shortfall?

    After establishing the energy transfer, it is necessary to introduce the idea of energy dissipation into the surrounding environment. 

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  • Neumann, K.; Viering, T.; Boone, W. J. and Fischer, H. E. () Towards a Learning Progression of Energy, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50, (2), 162-188.

    This German empirical study on a learning progression of energy describes how 1,856 students’ understanding (ages 10-14) and literacy progress as they study. They map students’ development in key areas such as ‘energy forms’, ‘energy transformations’, ‘dissipation’ and ‘conservation’ during their education.

    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), 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

  • 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.

    This Israel-based investigation of introductory-course students' (including 48 non-science majors) understanding of energy concepts demonstrates that many students develop incomplete and incorrect understandings of gravitational potential energy.

    Paper digest

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