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Inquiry Based Activities To Repair Misconceptions In Thermodynamics And Heat Transfer

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.740.1 - 14.740.6



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Paper Authors

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Margot Vigeant Bucknell University

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Michael Prince Bucknell University

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Katharyn Nottis Bucknell University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


This NSF funded (DUE 0442234) study examines the use of inquiry-based teaching to promote understanding of critical engineering concepts. Significant research shows that students often enter the classroom with tightly held misconceptions about the physical world that are not effectively addressed through traditional teaching. As a result, students are frequently able to solve problems that have been explicitly taught, but are unable to apply course concepts to solve real problems not seen in class. Failure to grasp prerequisite concepts also leaves students poorly prepared for more advanced study. Students’ conceptual understanding can be dramatically enhanced, however, through a paradigm shift in teaching that incorporates inquiry-based methods. This is an inductive and collaborative teaching method where students are placed in carefully designed situations where reality, rather than the professor, can dispute their preconceptions. The effectiveness of this approach has been extensively documented using thousands of undergraduate physics students. As of yet, however, inquiry-based activities have not been systematically developed for engineering education. This work seeks to fill that gap. Nine conceptual areas in Heat Transfer and Thermodynamics have been targeted. Inquiry-based educational materials have been developed and tested for four of the nine areas, and modules are under development to address the remaining five areas. The poster will discuss the operation and preliminary measurements of effectiveness for the newest inquiry-based materials. In order to assess the effectiveness of these modules, concept inventories addressing relevant areas in thermodynamics and heat transfer have also been developed and assessed for validity and reliability.


A solid grounding in conceptual understanding is required for students to shift from novice to expert problem-solvers in chemical engineering (Bransford, 2000). However, traditional instruction based upon “telling” and heavily reliant on theory and computation is not highly effective at developing accurate conceptual knowledge (Bransford, 2000). In Physics, the “Workshop Physics” model and other similar inquiry-based pedagogies have been demonstrated to be more effective at increasing students’ conceptual understanding (Laws et al 1999). In this work, we seek to adapt that model in order to repair student misconceptions about the fields of heat transfer and thermodynamics within chemical engineering.

The following concepts were targeted within the two areas: Heat Transfer H1) Temperature vs. Energy H2) Temperature vs. “Feeling Hot” H3) Rate of Heat Transfer vs. Amount of Energy Transferred H4) Radiation Thermodynamics T1) Entropy


Vigeant, M., & Prince, M., & Nottis, K. (2009, June), Inquiry Based Activities To Repair Misconceptions In Thermodynamics And Heat Transfer Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5669

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