Some students think of cold as an entity that behaves in ways similar to heat

Energy and Thermal Physics


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

  • There are no specific resources that address the idea of 'cold' as an entity.

    It is important to provide everyday examples that illustrate that cold is a lack of heat (similar to dark being a lack of light).


  • 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) 1861-1887.

    Early secondary school students struggle to describe energy changes, especially heating. They often describe flows of ‘coldness’ or assign ‘hotness’ or ‘coldness’ as properties of materials rather than being related to the temperature of materials. This research shows that a carefully designed curriculum, based on challenging misconceptions directly and building a clear concept of temperature, will help to overcome them.

    Key paper digest

  • Lubben, F., Netshisaulu, T. and Campbell, B. () Students' use of cultural metaphors and their scientific understandings related to heating. Science Education, 83 (6) 761-774.

    In this study, South African researchers explored 147 students’ use of cultural metaphoric reasoning in classifying everyday situations as hot or cold, as is part of Sotho cultural tradition, and how this develops misconceptions of heating.

    Paper digest

  • Chu, H; Treagust, D. F.; Yeo, S. and Zadnik, M. () Evaluation of Students' Understanding of Thermal Concepts in Everyday Contexts. International Journal of Science Education, 34 (10) 1509-1534.

    This research finds a wide range of misconceptions about temperature and energy held by secondary school students, revealing that the students can have a very confused understanding of thermal physics and how energy is transferred by thermal processes such as conduction and radiation. To tackle these ideas students need to be taught clear links between energy transfer and heating, based on the initial idea of transfer of energy from ‘hot’ to ‘cold’ materials, and moving towards the idea of thermal equilibrium.

    Paper digest

  • Wiser, M. () Use of History of Science to Understand and Remedy Students' Misconceptions About Heat and Temperature. 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

  • Lee, C. K. () A Conceptual Change Model for Teaching Heat Energy, Heat Transfer and Insulation. Science Education International, 25 (4) 417-437.

    This study examined 20 pre-service elementary teachers' (PSET) understanding of energy, heat transfer and insulation pre- and post-intervention. The research was carried out by a university-based researcher in the USA, using qualitative analysis of interviews and quiz data.

    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.

    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

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