Benchmarks for Science Literacy: Chapter 15 THE RESEARCH BASE



Heat and temperature. Even after some years of physics instruction, students do not distinguish well between heat and temperature when they explain thermal phenomena (Kesidou & Duit, 1993; Tiberghien, 1983; Wiser, 1988). Their belief that temperature is the measure of heat is particularly resistant to change. Long-term teaching interventions are required for upper middle-school students to start differentiating between heat and temperature (Linn & Songer, 1991).

Heat transfer. Middle-school students do not always explain the process of heating and cooling in terms of heat being transferred (Tiberghien, 1983; Tomasini & Balandi, 1987). Some students think that "cold" is being transferred from a colder to a warmer object, others that both "heat" and "cold" are transferred at the same time. Middle- and high-school students do not always explain heat-exchange phenomena as interactions. For example, students often think objects cool down or release heat spontaneously--that is, without being in contact with a cooler object (Wiser, 1986). Even after instruction, students don't always give up their naive notion that some substances (for example, flour, sugar, or air) cannot heat up (Tiberghien, 1985) or that metals get hot quickly because "they attract heat," "suck heat in," or "hold heat well" (Erickson, 1985). Middle-school students believe different materials in the same surroundings have different temperatures if they feel different (for example, metal feels colder than wood). As a result, they do not recognize the universal tendency to temperature equalization (Tomasini & Balandi, 1987). Few middle- and high-school students understand the molecular basis of heat transfer even after instruction (Wiser, 1986; Kesidou & Duit, 1993). Although specially designed instruction appears to give students a better understanding about heat transfer than traditional instruction, some difficulties often remain (Tiberghien, 1985; Lewis, 1991).

Energy conceptualization. Students' meanings for "energy" both before and after traditional instruction are considerably different from its scientific meaning (Solomon, 1983). In particular, students believe energy is associated only with humans or movement, is a fuel-like quantity which is used up, or is something that makes things happen and is expended in the process. Students rarely think energy is measurable and quantifiable (Solomon, 1985; Watts, 1983a). Although students typically hold these meanings for energy at all ages, upper elementary-school students tend to associate energy only with living things, in particular with growing, fitness, exercise, and food (Black & Solomon, 1983).

Energy forms and energy transformation. Middle- and high-school students tend to think that energy transformations involve only one form of energy at a time (Brook & Wells, 1988). Although they develop some skill in identifying different forms of energy, in most cases their descriptions of energy change focus only on forms that have perceivable effects (Brook & Driver, 1986). The transformation of motion to heat seems to be difficult for students to accept, especially in cases with no obvious temperature increase (Brook & Driver, 1986; Kesidou & Duit, 1993). Finally, it may not be clear to students that some forms of energy, such as light, sound, and chemical energy, can be used to make things happen (Carr & Kirkwood, 1988).

Energy conservation. The idea of energy conservation seems counter-intuitive to middle- and high-school students who hold on to the everyday use of the term energy, but teaching heat-dissipation ideas at the same time as energy-conservation ideas may help alleviate this difficulty (Solomon, 1983). Even after instruction, however, students do not seem to appreciate that energy conservation is a useful way to explain phenomena (Brook & Driver, 1984). Middle- and high-school students tend to use their intuitive conceptualizations of energy to interpret energy conservation ideas (Brook & Driver, 1986; Kesidou & Duit, 1993; Solomon, 1985). For example, some students interpret the idea that "energy is not created or destroyed" to mean that energy is stored up in the system and can even be released again in its original form (Solomon, 1985). Although teaching approaches that accommodate students' difficulties about energy appear to be more successful than traditional science instruction, the main deficiencies outlined above remain despite these approaches (Brook & Driver, 1986; Brook & Wells, 1988).