Students who are aware that energy ideas and terms are used differently in science and in everyday life may have difficulties deciding which perspective to use when answering questions

Energy and Thermal Physics


The words used in the question may cue different responses.

Resources to Address This

  • Two complementary descriptions (11-16)

    Ref - SPT En02 PN04

    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)

    Ref - Practical physics; Energy; Introducing energy; Helpful language for energy talk

    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 explain 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,


    doi: 10.1119/1.1789161.

    Review sheet

  • Geourgiou, H. and Sharma, M.D. () University students understanding of Thermal Physics in everyday contexts, International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10,


    Review sheet

  • 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)


    Review sheet

  • 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,


    Review sheet

  • Loverude, M. E. () Student Understanding Of Gravitational Potential Energy And The Motion Of Bodies In A Gravitational Field, AIP Conference Proceedings, 790, (77) California State University Fullerton, American Institute of Physics.

    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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