An Intercultural Exploration of Conceptions in Thermal Physics

Helen Georgiou, Manjula D. Sharma


An impressed enthusiast of thermodynamics once predicted that it would ‘never be overthrown’. Many years later, the beauty of thermodynamics has become increasingly elusive for students, hidden under a cloak of perceived obscurity and conceptual difficulty. This study aims to find what makes thermodynamics inherently difficult, or in fact if this is generally the case, by analysing a widely ranging sample of responses to a two part thermodynamics question. The analysis is an in-depth qualitative content analysis facilitated by the computer software NVivo. The sample includes responses from a range of ages from middle school to adult and from countries in Europe, North America and Africa, as well as Australia. A content analysis with a focus on the use of language in thermodynamics will be presented in this report, along with the implications for thermodynamics instruction.

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