Barriers to learning for 'Energy transfer'

Use these lists to prepare for pupils' common misconceptions and confusions when teaching this science strand. These can be built into your scheme of work and addressed throughout the learning journey. The lists below explores areas such as heating, sound, light, electric current and biosystems.

Common misconceptions and confusions around heating

Pupils often think that:

  • heating boiling water more vigorously will make its temperature rise above 100°C
  • boiling point is the maximum temperature a substance can reach
  • the bubbles in boiling water contain air/oxygen or nothing
  • all liquids boil at 100°C and freeze at 0°C
  • heat is a substance which can flow from place to place
  • heat rises (as opposed to hot substances rising)
  • some objects are naturally warmer than others
  • heat and cold are different entities rather than being opposite ends of a continuum
  • thermal conductors and insulators are seen as opposites, not part of a continuum
  • hot objects can cool down without something else around them getting hot (energy is just 'lost')
  • energy is only transferred upwards by heating
  • all solids expand at the same rate
  • when solids expand, the particles themselves get bigger.

Pupils are often confused about:

  • the difference between heat and temperature.

Common misconceptions and confusions around sound

Pupils often think that:

  • sounds can be produced without using any material objects
  • hitting an object harder changes the pitch of the sound produced
  • human voice sounds are produced by a large number of vocal cords that all produce different sounds
  • loudness and pitch of sounds are the same thing
  • sound travels instantaneously – hence you can see and hear a distinct event at the same moment
  • sound can transfer energy through empty space (a vacuum) and cannot travel through liquids and solids
  • in wind instruments, the sound is caused only by vibration of the instrument (not the internal air column)
  • sound waves are transverse waves (like radio and light waves)
  • when waves interact with a solid surface, the waves and hence the energy they are transferring are/is destroyed
  • in telephones and microphones, sounds (rather than electrical impulses) are carried through the wires
  • sound is carried by individual molecules travelling from place to place through a medium or as flowing air
  • ultrasounds are extremely loud sounds
  • megaphones create sounds
  • noise pollution is annoying, but it is essentially harmless.

Common misconceptions and confusions around light

Pupils often think that:

  • light transfers energy from one place to another instantaneously
  • an object is seen whenever light shines on it, with no recognition that light must move between the object and the observer's eye
  • when objects are seen light (or 'rays') comes out of the eye and travels to the object
  • lines drawn outward from a light bulb in a sketch represent the 'glow' surrounding the bulb; light from a bulb only extends outward a certain distance and then stops; how far it extends depends on the brightness of the bulb
  • light is reflected by shiny surfaces, but light is not reflected at all from other surfaces
  • light always passes straight through transparent material (without changing direction)
  • blocking part of the lens surface would block the corresponding part of the image
  • the purpose of the screen is to capture the image so that it can be seen; without a screen, there is not an image
  • an image is formed at the focal point of a lens
  • the size of an image depends on the size (diameter) of the lens used to form the image
  • gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared light, microwaves and radio waves are all very different things
  • when waves or pulses interfere (as in a spring, rope, water wave or light wave) they bounce off each other and go back in the opposite direction from which they came
  • when a wave moves, particles move along with the wave from the point of transmission to the point of reception
  • when light passes through a prism or a filter, colour is added to the light
  • the rules for mixing coloured lights are the same as the rules for mixing coloured paints.

Common misconceptions and confusions around electric current

Pupils often think that:

  • objects become positively charged because they have gained protons, or electrons have been destroyed
  • all atoms have a charge
  • current flows from a battery (or other source of electricity) to a light bulb, but not from the light bulb to the battery
  • current flows out of both terminals of a battery or power-pack (the 'clashing' current model)
  • current is used up in a circuit
  • all the electrons in an electrical circuit are initially contained in the battery or other source of the electricity
  • electrons change into light when a lamp is turned on
  • wires are hollow like a water hose and electrons move inside the hollow space
  • as a battery is a store of energy, a larger battery will always make a motor run faster or a bulb glow brighter
  • voltage is the same as current
  • pure water is a good conductor of electricity
  • all wires are insulated
  • birds can perch on bare wires without being hurt because birds have insulated feet
  • the electrostatic force between two charged objects is not affected by the distance between them.

Common misconceptions and confusions around biosystems

Pupils often think that:

  • energy is fuel
  • energy is a substance (although this view may form part of a 'good enough' model for pupils at early stages in the journey)
  • energy and force are interchangeable terms
  • energy gets used up
  • energy is truly lost in many energy transfers.

Pupils are often confused about:

  • energy transfer and energy resources – hence, if energy is conserved, why are we 'running out of energy?'