We report results from an investigation of student ability to apply the concepts of work and energy to situations in which the internal structure of a system cannot be ignored, that is, the system cannot be treated as a particle. Students in introductory calculus-based physics courses were asked written and online questions after relevant instruction by lectures, textbook, and laboratory. Several difficulties were identified. Some related to student ability to calculate the work done on a system. Failure to associate work with the change in energy of a system was also widespread. The results have implications for instruction that aims for a rigorous treatment of energy concepts that is consistent with the first law of thermodynamics. The findings are guiding the development of two tutorials to supplement instruction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)