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The Use of Inquiry-Based Activities to Repair Student Misconceptions Related to Heat, Energy and Temperature

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Active and Inquiry-Based Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1510.1 - 22.1510.14



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Paper Authors


Michael J. Prince Bucknell University

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Michael Prince is Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University. His current research examines the use of inquiry-based activities to repair student misconceptions in thermodynamics and heat transfer. He is co-director of the ASEE National Effective Teaching Institute.

Department of Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837.

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Margot A. Vigeant Bucknell University

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Margot Vigeant is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, with research interests in engineering education, thermodynamics concepts, and bioprocess engineering. She is currently also an Associate Dean in the College of Engineering.

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Katharyn E. K. Nottis Bucknell University

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Katharyn E. K. Nottis is an associate professor in the Education department at Bucknell University. An Educational Psychologist, her research has focused on meaningful learning in science and engineering education, approached from the perspective of Human Constructivism. She has been involved in collaborative research projects focused on conceptual learning in chemistry, seismology, and chemical engineering.

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The Use of Inquiry-Based Activities to Repair Student Misconceptions Related to Heat, Energyand TemperatureThis study examines the use of inquiry-based activities to repair student misconceptions relatedto heat, energy and temperature. Extensive research demonstrates that children, students andadults have a number of prevalent and persistent misconceptions in these concept areas.Evidence is presented to demonstrate that engineering students similarly have relatedmisconceptions. Specifically, the study examines misconceptions related to four targetedconcept areas that have been identified by educators as both important and difficult for studentsto master: (1) temperature vs. energy, (2) factors that affect the rate vs. the amount of energytransferred, (3) temperature vs. perceptions of hot and cold and (4) the effect of surfaceproperties on thermal radiation.Students’ conceptual understanding was assessed using the newly developed Heat and EnergyConcept Inventory (HECI), an instrument that was developed over several years of testing andwhich has demonstrated high levels of internal reliability (KR20=0.85) and high content validityas assessed by engineering faculty. Baseline data on student performance on the HECI bothprior to and after normal instruction in undergraduate heat transfer courses was collected fromapproximately 350 engineering students over11 course offerings of undergraduate heat transferclasses at 10 institutions. Analysis of pre/post performance for these students demonstrated thatstudent performance on the HECI improved from a mean score of 49.2% correct prior toinstruction to a post-instruction performance of 54.5% correct. The improvement wasstatistically significant, but modest. Improvements on each of the 4 subcategories of the HECIwent from 52.8% to 54.7% correct for temperature vs. energy, from 61.2% to 69.4% fortemperature vs. perceptions of hot and cold, from 36.9% to 42.6% for rate vs. amount and from44.4% to 49.5% for thermal radiation.Inquiry-based activities, modeled after those used for Workshop Physics, were developed in anattempt to improve students’ conceptual understanding in each of these 4 concept areas. Theactivities were both inductive and collaborative, with an emphasis on generating productivecognitive dissonance as well as providing a supportive team environment for helping studentsrevise their thinking as a result of their observations during the activities. Initial results from thefirst semester of testing are encouraging. Looking at 116 students over the course of asemester’s instruction in heat transfer at three diverse institutions, the mean performance on theHECI improved from 46.6% correct prior to instruction to a post performance score of 70.1%when inquiry-based activities were employed. In terms of normalized gains, these results showan improvement from a normalized gain of 10% without the use of activities to a normalizedgain of 46% with activities. There was also a statistically significant improvement on each of the4 subcategories of the HECI with the adoption of the inquiry-based activities.The study suggests that inquiry-based activities can be effective to help repair prevalent studentmisconceptions that are resistant to change through normal instruction.

Prince, M. J., & Vigeant, M. A., & Nottis, K. E. K. (2011, June), The Use of Inquiry-Based Activities to Repair Student Misconceptions Related to Heat, Energy and Temperature Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18483

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