Students first perceive energy as activity, or the ability to do work

Energy and Thermal Physics


Then as their understanding progresses, they begin to distinguish between different energy stores. Next comes an understanding of energy transfer, followed by a recognition of energy degradation, and finally an acceptance of the concept of conservation of energy.

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

  • Shifting and conserving energy (11-14)

    This resource discusses how recognising that when one energy store empties, another energy store elsewhere must be filled. The energy is just shifted from store to store. Energy is not used up but is conserved.

    View Resource
  • Words used to describe energy (11-16)

    The topic of energy needs to be visited many times with a gradual increase in the sophistication and depth of the teaching. As there is no convenient definition of energy for beginners, the concept needs to develop slowly until students can write about energy without making mistakes; putting the right words into the right places. It benefits from a spiral approach to teaching.

    View Resource


  • Trumper, R. () Children's energy concepts: a cross‐age study, International Journal of Science Education, 15, (2)


    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)


    Paper digest

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today