Student understanding of calorimetry in introductory calculus-based physics

Warren M. Christensen, David Meltzer, Ngoc Loan Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We report on students' thinking regarding calorimetry concepts in an introductory calculus-based physics course. We found that despite overall good performance, only about half of the students were able to provide correct answers with satisfactory explanations. A number of persistent student difficulties were found to affect approximately 40% of the students even after instruction, including apparent confusion about the meaning of specific heat and misunderstanding of the nature of thermal energy exchange. Student response patterns varied significantly depending on the context of the question and often reasoning did not appear to be consistent among contexts, instead favoring "rule-based" reasoning. Interviews with students suggest that difficulty with algebraic manipulations is a significant contributor to incorrect responses on calorimetry questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1168-1176
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Physics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 18 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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