Asee peer logo

Investigating Student Conceptual Difficulties in Thermodynamics Across Multiple Disciplines: The First Law and P-V Diagrams

Download Paper |

Conference

2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids and Heat Transfer II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count

17

Page Numbers

24.821.1 - 24.821.17

DOI

10.18260/1-2--20713

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/20713

Download Count

190

Request a correction

Paper Authors

biography

Jessica W. Clark University of Maine

visit author page

Jessica Clark is a PhD candidate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Maine. She completed her M.E. in engineering physics with a focus in mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, and her B.S. in Physics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her research interest is in student conceptual understanding of thermodynamics and she is a member of the Physics Education Research Laboratory.

visit author page

biography

John R. Thompson University of Maine

visit author page

John Thompson is an Associate Professor of Physics and Cooperating Associate Professor of STEM Education, and a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education at the University of Maine. He is co-director of the UMaine Physics Education Research Laboratory, a research group of over a dozen faculty, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, and undergraduates. His research focuses on the learning and teaching of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics at the upper division, and student understanding at the physics-mathematics interface. He is very interested in cross-disciplinary studies of specific topics.

visit author page

biography

Donald B. Mountcastle University of Maine

visit author page

Donald Mountcastle is an Associate Professor of Physics and a Cooperating Associate Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Maine. He is a member of the UMaine Physics Education Research Laboratory. His research interests are the learning and teaching of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, and student understanding of mathematics and its use in physics.

visit author page

Download Paper |

Abstract

Investigating Student Conceptual Difficulties in Thermodynamics Across Multiple Disciplines: The First Law and P-V Diagrams Thermodynamics is a core part of the curriculum in physics and many engineering fields.While individual courses in each discipline appear to cover many of the same topics at somelevel, the emphasis, applications, and many representations are idiosyncratic to the field.Education researchers in both disciplines have studied thermodynamics learning and teaching.Physics education researchers have identified student difficulties with foundational conceptssuch as heat, temperature, and entropy as well as with larger grain-sized ideas such as statevariables, path-dependent processes, etc. Engineering education research shows analogousfindings and has identified additional difficulties unique to engineering contexts, such asconfusion between steady-state and equilibrium processes. An open question is the extent to which discipline-specific research findings apply acrossdisciplines. Previous work by us and our colleagues in physics education research has exploredstudent difficulties with thermodynamics and statistical mechanics in upper-division physicscourses. We have recently broadened the scope of our own investigation to include mechanicaland chemical engineering courses, to see whether similar difficulties are present in thesedisciplines and how certain instructional pedagogies may affect student learning. At ourinstitution, thermodynamics is not covered in the introductory physics course sequence, so formost students this is their first formal encounter with the topic. Our initial focus is on the First Law of Thermodynamics and its constituent elements, as thistopic is fundamental to all the courses of interest. We have administered hand-written, free-response questions to students at various points before and/or after instruction. The questionsdiscussed here require interpretation of graphical information about thermodynamic processes.We have coded responses according to student reasoning (e.g., area under the curve, time-related) provided in the data so as not to confine our understanding of student ideas We find thatmost reasoning patterns are present in all disciplines although the frequency varies by discipline.Initial answering patterns are similar across disciplines with a high proportion of studentsresponding with incorrect ideas. The post-instruction patterns are improved but show persistenceof some specific difficulties (e.g. work is path-independent). These outcomes vary betweencourses and are consistent with disciplinary emphasis and individual instructional practice.

Clark, J. W., & Thompson, J. R., & Mountcastle, D. B. (2014, June), Investigating Student Conceptual Difficulties in Thermodynamics Across Multiple Disciplines: The First Law and P-V Diagrams Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20713

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015