UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation into the concept of heat : a study of chemistry instructors’ alternate conceptions Goodman, Donna-Leigh


Research has shown that chemistry students often possess alternate conceptions regarding the ‘heat’ concept. This is a problem because understanding heat in chemistry is pivotal to a meaningful comprehension of many other heat-related scientific concepts, such as temperature, kinetic energy, and work. Studies indicate that students frequently exit chemistry courses with inaccurate conceptualizations of heat. The implications for teaching are that whenever students’ reasoning about heat is faulty, then it becomes pedagogically important to examine, also, the chemistry instructors’ conceptualizations. As language is a powerful method of representation of knowledge and ideas in chemistry education, alternate conceptions may be directly transmitted through inaccurate articulation, such as misused metaphors and analogies. This investigation involves determining instructors’ various understandings of the meaning of the heat concept as taught in college preparation and first-year level chemistry classes. A sample consisting of currently practicing chemistry instructors from local colleges and universities completed a survey-questionnaire describing a lesson on how they teach the heat concept to their students by making an audio digital recording. To support this investigation the chemistry textbooks used by the instructors were linguistically analyzed for definitions and explanations of heat. Analytically, this study employs the qualitative methodology of grounded theory to inductively develop emergent theory from the data through a constant comparative process. Grounded theory allows movement from in-depth studies to more general accounts of wider context which offer testable predictions verifiable by traditional experimental and statistical means. The results of this study indicate that instructors do hold many alternate conceptions about heat and use them during instruction, of which several or more are discrepant with the accepted views of the scientific community. I argue that chemistry instructors need to identify and understand the use of these alternate conceptions, and find ways to counteract them through conceptual change-based pedagogy, before passing them on to students. I suggest instructors speak about heat as a process rather than as a substance to support development of the correct scientific meaning of heat. This inquiry also shows that chemistry textbooks contain incorrect language, and misconceptions, about the heat concept likely contributing to the problem.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International