Repairing Student Misconceptions in Heat Transfer Using Inquiry-Based Activities


  • Michael Prince Bucknell University
  • Margot Vigeant Bucknell University
  • Katharyn Nottis Bucknell University


Eight inquiry-based activities, described here in sufficient detail for faculty to adopt in their own courses, were designed to teach students fundamental concepts in heat transfer. The concept areas chosen were (1) factors affecting the rate vs. amount of heat transfer, (2) temperature vs. perceptions of hot and cold, (3) temperature vs. energy and (4) the effect of color on thermal radiation. These concept areas were identified in the literature as both important for students to know and difficult for them to learn. The effectiveness of the inquiry-based activities was tested by examining pre/post learning gains on the Heat and Energy Concept Inventory (HECI) in both traditional classes and classes utilizing the activities. Results show that using these activities more than tripled the learning gains found in the targeted concept areas compared to conceptual learning gains found in the control classes utilizing traditional instruction.

Author Biographies

Michael Prince, Bucknell University

Michael Prince is the Rooke Professor of Engineering and professor of chemical engineering at Bucknell University.  His research interests include repair of persistent student misconceptions, reducing student resistance to active learning and increasing the diffusion of educational research into educational practice.  

Margot Vigeant, Bucknell University

Margot Vigeant is professor of chemical engineering and associate dean of engineering at Bucknell University.  She has taught at Bucknell for 16 years, and is interested in studying and using inquiry, design, and PBL to enhance students’ conceptual, technical, and attitudinal growth. 

Katharyn Nottis, Bucknell University

Katharyn Nottis is professor of education at Bucknell University.  Her interests include educational assessment, statistics, and STEM education.  Dr. Nottis has done leading work on teaching in diverse environments, successfully preparing students for work in a wide variety of school settings.