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

Energy and Thermal Physics


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)

    Ref - SPT En02 PN13

    The next step in this energy story involves recognising that when one energy store empties, another energy store elsewhere must be filling. The energy is just shifted from store to store. Energy is not used up, but is conserved.

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  • Words used to describe energy (11-16)

    Ref - Practical physics; Energy; Introducing energy; Words used to describe energy

    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.

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


    Review sheet

  • 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)


    Review sheet

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