Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research | VOL. 11

Energy conservation in dissipative processes: Teacher expectations and strategies associated with imperceptible thermal energy

Publication Date Mar 12, 2015


American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, Maryland 20740, USA(Received 1 October 2014; published 12 March 2015)Research has demonstrated that many students and some teachers do not consistently apply theconservation of energy principle when analyzing mechanical scenarios. In observing elementary andsecondary teachers engaged in learning activities that require tracking and conserving energy, we find thatchallenges to energy conservation often arise in dissipative scenarios in which kinetic energy transformsinto thermal energy (e.g., a ball rolls to a stop). We find that teachers expect that when they can see themotion associated with kinetic energy, they should be able to perceive the warmth associated with thermalenergy.Theirexpectationsareviolatedwhenthewarmthproducedisimperceptible.Inthesecases,teachersreject the idea that the kinetic energy transforms to thermal energy. Our observations suggest that apparentdifficulties with energy conservation may have their roots in a strong and appropriate association betweenforms of energy and their perceptible indicators. We see teachers resolve these challenges by relating theoriginal scenario to an exaggerated version in which the dissipated thermal energy is associated withperceptible warmth. Using these exaggerations, teachers infer that thermal energy is present to a lesserdegree in the original scenario. They use this exaggeration strategy to track and conserve energy indissipative scenarios.


American Association Of Physics Teachers Thermal Energy Teacher Expectations Dissipative Scenarios Energy Conservation Original Scenario Kinetic Energy College Park Dissipative Processes Learning Activities

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