Students may have difficulties deciding which energy perspective (school-based vs everyday life) to use when answering questions

Energy and Thermal Physics


Resources to Address This

  • Two complementary descriptions (11-16)

    It is important to recognise from the very outset that this description of the action of fuels, in terms of energy and energy stores, is theoretical or abstract in nature. It doesn't belong to discussion in the everyday, or lived-in world. You can't look down a very powerful microscope to find the chemical store inside the petrol! We think it is helpful to make a clear distinction between the everyday description and the energy description.

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  • Helpful language for energy talk (11-16)

    Some ways of talking about energy are clearer and more helpful than others.

    Using the energy stores and pathways provides a way to describe the 'energy story'. This is not the same as the description of observations or the 'physics story' that explains an event.

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  • Meltzer, D. E. () Investigation of students’ reasoning regarding heat, work, and the first law of thermodynamics in an introductory calculus-based general physics course, American Journal of Physics, 72, 1432.

    This US-based study examined undergraduate students' difficulties in understanding thermal physics, specifically the first law of thermodynamics. The aim was to identify misconceptions and areas of misunderstanding to inform improved teaching approaches. They found that students gain greater understanding when instructed to use diagrams (in particular P-V diagrams) to explain or reiterate their answers; alternating between diagrammatic and verbal explanations is also recommended.

    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

  • Thomas, P. L. and Schwenz, W. R. () College Physical Chemistry Students’ Conceptions of Equilibrium and Fundamental Thermodynamics, Journal of research in science teaching, 35, (10) 1151–1160.

    The study proposes supplementing lectures with active learning strategies to address thermodynamics and equilibrium misconceptions among 19-22-year-old students.

    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

  • Trumper, R. () Children's energy concepts: a cross‐age study, International Journal of Science Education, 15, (2) 139-148, Routledge.

    Research shows that teaching about energy concepts is most effective when it takes place early and clearly differentiates common language from scientific language. Students often think that energy 'makes things happen', i.e., that it is the cause of change. Researchers suggest that descriptions and analyses of a wide range of energy transfers are used to help students identify the physical processes that lead to the energy transfer and the corresponding results.

    Paper digest

  • Christensen, W.M., Melzer, D. E. and Ogilvie, C.A., () Students' ideas regarding entropy and the second law of thermodynamics in an introductory physics course, American Journal of Physics, 77, 907.

    This US paper examined 318 students' understanding of entropy in an introductory physics course. Initial findings showed low levels of correctness, with two-thirds demonstrating conservation-type reasoning. Even after instruction, these outcomes remained largely unchanged. However, targeted instruction highlighting entropy as a non-conserved quantity improved performance on related qualitative questions.

    Paper digest

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