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Heat Concepts

Initial perceptual naive misconceptions (any age)

Misconceptions (Explanations, Naive understanding, Misconceptions, or Perceptual responses)

  1. When objects are heated the particles expand and contract when they cool.
  2. Thinks expand to make room for the heat.
  3. Heat is an object or something other than energy.
  4. Temperature depends on the material. Metal is colder than fabric. Coats are warm.
  5. Temperature depends on size.
  6. Heat travels like a liquid through conductors.
  7. If you mix 40 degree water with 40 degree water you get 80 or more than 40.
  8. Somethings are hotter than others are even though they have been in the same room, oven, water… for a long period of time.
  9. Metal is hotter or colder than other objects.
  10. Blankets, coats, warm objects. Because clothes keep you warm, anything closed in is warm, it acts as insulation and warms it up, it protects it from outside stuff, it’s like a house.
  11. Hot water freezes faster than cold
    • Hot water molecules evaporate when heated making less molecules that need to freeze.
    • Steam produced need not be frozen.
    • When cold water freezes the ice crystals act as a barrier not a helper.
    • Hot water molecules are farther apart giving room in which to freeze.
    • There is less oxygen and carbon dioxide making it easier to freeze.
    • When molecules are closer together they do not have as much of a chance of freezing where as in the hotter they are farther apart which gives them a better chance to freeze.

Beginning (preschool - 7 years)


  1. Sun provides heat.
  2. Heat is necessary for life.

Intermediate (7 years - 11 years)


  1. Heat can be produced in many ways, such as burning, rubbing, or mixing one substance with another.
  2. Heat is transferred from a source to a reciever. Heat is transferred in predictable ways, flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones, until both reach the same temperature.
  3. Heat can be transferred during a chemical, electrical, magnetic, light, mechanical, or nuclear reaction.
  4. Objects that give off light usually give off heat.
  5. Mechanical energy is usually related to heat through friction.
  6. Hot and cold objects will transfer heat energy until they reach equilibrium.
  7. Some material conduct energy better than others. Some materials can transfer heat by contact or at a distance.

Literate (11+)


  1. Heat is almost always a result of energy transfer.
  2. Heat can be transfered by touching of particles (collisions of atoms conduction), or through space (by rays radiation) or currents in a fluid (convection).
  3. When objects are heated the space between the particles increases.
  4. Heat energy is the disorderly motion of molecules and in radiation.

Scoring guides

Scoring guide for temperature (see activity: heat energy, temperature, & transfer)

Low level: Explains heat with I don't know, or as soemthing with magic like qualities: like heat being a substance continuously generated within the object. Like a blanket, coat, glove, ... generates and gives off heat without consideration of limited supply or conservation of energy.

Middle level: Explains heat energy as something different than the object itself. Something that can be transfered from one thing to another.

High level: Explains heat is transferred in predictable ways from a source to a receiver. Flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones, until both reach the same temperature. Some materials conduct heat energy better than others, which can effect peoples perceptions of temperature.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes