In Regents Chemistry, we are currently learning about the difference between heat versus temperature. (In case you need a refresher: heat is the total amount of energy in a system, whereas temperature is the average kinetic energy (or energy of particle motion) in a system.)
Why Address “Mis” Conceptions in Science At All?
Our students come into science class with varying degrees of background knowledge. Some students have thought about why the steam in their morning shower rises to the ceiling in their bathrooms. Some students can explain that dispersion in a warm liquid occurs faster than dispersion in a cold liquid because the particles have a higher kinetic energy (are moving faster) in the warmer liquid. Some students have never heard of the Kelvin unit of measuring temperature. And each of those amounts of prior knowledge is 100% okay!
Along with prior knowledge comes misconceptions, or knowledge that students believe to be true that are actually incorrect based on current scientific conventions. One misconception that I have encountered in this unit is the statement that “heat rises”. This statement is untrue; heat increases the motion of particles and makes them less dense. Less dense particles rise above particles that have a greater density – this explains why warmer air rises above cooler air. But to say that “heat” itself rises is incorrect.
Addressing these kinds of misconceptions helps students to gain a deeper understanding of content in uniquely engaging ways. Starting with students’ prior knowledge pulls them into the lesson, as their thoughts are guiding the class discussions (which can be an engaging and empowering experience for a student). Specifically in addressing a misconception, students lead the lesson discussion while students and we [teachers] deconstruct the misconception to correct any incomplete or misinformation it might contain.
If you are interested in learning about general misconceptions about temperature and heat flow, there are two videos posted below by the YouTube channel Veritasium.
When To Use These Videos in Science Classrooms
These videos serve an excellent resource for students to feel validated in their opinions, misconceptions, and prior knowledge. There is camaraderie in knowing that their misinformation is a widely dispersed way of thinking about these topics, and as novice scientists, this can provide a validating means of engagement for students to learn about how to correct their misconceptions. Plus, it’s good practice to show videos in class because it provides multimodal access into the lesson content beyond simply lecturing about heat and temperature.
Most importantly, however, is that videos should be used only when the science is TOO DANGEROUS or TOO COSTLY (time, resources, materials management, etc.) to feasibly have your students do as a class. Particularly in the case of the “Misconceptions About Temperature” video, the content of this video can be easily demonstrated and discussed in the classroom setting. An example procedure for this is as follows:
- Students feel the surface of their desks. They “feel” relatively room temperature.
- Students feel the metal of their chairs. They “feel” much colder.
- Have a discussion – which one do students think is colder? Tally responses for “chair is warmer”, “desk is warmer”, and “they are the same temperature”.
- Students take the temperature of the backs of “school chairs” (the ones with metal bars holding the chair together) as well as the surfaces of wooden desks. This can be accomplished using an infrared thermometer.
- Students compare their temperatures – they should be equal, if not relatively the same, from sitting in the same classroom temperature for a while.
- Have a discussion that addresses the misconceptions of students who thought the metal was colder – why did it feel colder? Have students provide possible explanations.
- The teacher should explain the difference between “heat” and “temperature” – metal is a conductor of heat, which means it absorbs heat from the body at a much faster rate than the desk. We perceive this faster rate of heat loss from our hands as a “colder surface” even though they are the same temperature.
- (Optional): Have students consider why they use a bath mat when they step out of the shower. Why do the tiles “feel” colder, even though they have been sitting in the same bathroom temperature as everything else (including the bath mat)?
But Wait…There’s More!
The creator of this YouTube channel (Derek Muller) has some insightful points about the “how to”s of teaching science; if you are curious, check this video out!