Investigation of students' reasoning regarding heat, work, and the first law of thermodynamics in an introductory calculus-based general physics course

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

91 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Students in an introductory university physics course were found to share many substantial difficulties related to learning fundamental topics in thermal physics. Responses to written questions by 653 students in three separate courses were consistent with the results of detailed individual interviews with 32 students in a fourth course. Although most students seemed to acquire a reasonable grasp of the state-function concept, it was found that there was a widespread and persistent tendency to improperly over-generalize this concept to apply to both work and heat. A large majority of interviewed students thought that net work done or net heat absorbed by a system undergoing a cyclic process must be zero, and only 20% or fewer were able to make effective use of the first law of thermodynamics even after instruction. Students' difficulties seemed to stem in part from the fact that heat, work, and internal energy share the same units. The results were consistent with those of previously published studies of students in the U.S. and Europe, but portray a pervasiveness of confusion regarding process-dependent quantities that has been previously unreported. Significant enhancements of current standard instruction may be required for students to master, basic thermodynamic concepts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1432-1446
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Physics
Volume72
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2004
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

calculus
students
heat
thermodynamics
physics
education
confusion
internal energy
stems
learning
tendencies
energy
augmentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

Cite this

@article{ee09913bb4bf4f0185642feaec58b93b,
title = "Investigation of students' reasoning regarding heat, work, and the first law of thermodynamics in an introductory calculus-based general physics course",
abstract = "Students in an introductory university physics course were found to share many substantial difficulties related to learning fundamental topics in thermal physics. Responses to written questions by 653 students in three separate courses were consistent with the results of detailed individual interviews with 32 students in a fourth course. Although most students seemed to acquire a reasonable grasp of the state-function concept, it was found that there was a widespread and persistent tendency to improperly over-generalize this concept to apply to both work and heat. A large majority of interviewed students thought that net work done or net heat absorbed by a system undergoing a cyclic process must be zero, and only 20{\%} or fewer were able to make effective use of the first law of thermodynamics even after instruction. Students' difficulties seemed to stem in part from the fact that heat, work, and internal energy share the same units. The results were consistent with those of previously published studies of students in the U.S. and Europe, but portray a pervasiveness of confusion regarding process-dependent quantities that has been previously unreported. Significant enhancements of current standard instruction may be required for students to master, basic thermodynamic concepts.",
author = "David Meltzer",
year = "2004",
month = "11",
doi = "10.1119/1.1789161",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "72",
pages = "1432--1446",
journal = "American Journal of Physics",
issn = "0002-9505",
publisher = "American Association of Physics Teachers",
number = "11",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Investigation of students' reasoning regarding heat, work, and the first law of thermodynamics in an introductory calculus-based general physics course

AU - Meltzer, David

PY - 2004/11

Y1 - 2004/11

N2 - Students in an introductory university physics course were found to share many substantial difficulties related to learning fundamental topics in thermal physics. Responses to written questions by 653 students in three separate courses were consistent with the results of detailed individual interviews with 32 students in a fourth course. Although most students seemed to acquire a reasonable grasp of the state-function concept, it was found that there was a widespread and persistent tendency to improperly over-generalize this concept to apply to both work and heat. A large majority of interviewed students thought that net work done or net heat absorbed by a system undergoing a cyclic process must be zero, and only 20% or fewer were able to make effective use of the first law of thermodynamics even after instruction. Students' difficulties seemed to stem in part from the fact that heat, work, and internal energy share the same units. The results were consistent with those of previously published studies of students in the U.S. and Europe, but portray a pervasiveness of confusion regarding process-dependent quantities that has been previously unreported. Significant enhancements of current standard instruction may be required for students to master, basic thermodynamic concepts.

AB - Students in an introductory university physics course were found to share many substantial difficulties related to learning fundamental topics in thermal physics. Responses to written questions by 653 students in three separate courses were consistent with the results of detailed individual interviews with 32 students in a fourth course. Although most students seemed to acquire a reasonable grasp of the state-function concept, it was found that there was a widespread and persistent tendency to improperly over-generalize this concept to apply to both work and heat. A large majority of interviewed students thought that net work done or net heat absorbed by a system undergoing a cyclic process must be zero, and only 20% or fewer were able to make effective use of the first law of thermodynamics even after instruction. Students' difficulties seemed to stem in part from the fact that heat, work, and internal energy share the same units. The results were consistent with those of previously published studies of students in the U.S. and Europe, but portray a pervasiveness of confusion regarding process-dependent quantities that has been previously unreported. Significant enhancements of current standard instruction may be required for students to master, basic thermodynamic concepts.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=8744241479&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=8744241479&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1119/1.1789161

DO - 10.1119/1.1789161

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:8744241479

VL - 72

SP - 1432

EP - 1446

JO - American Journal of Physics

JF - American Journal of Physics

SN - 0002-9505

IS - 11

ER -