Student understanding of energy: Difficulties related to systems

Beth A. Lindsey, Paula R L Heron, Peter S. Shaffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Choosing a system of interest and identifying the interactions of the system with its environment are crucial steps in applying the relation between work and energy. Responses to problems that we administered in introductory calculus-based physics courses show that many students fail to recognize the implications of a particular choice of system. In some cases, students do not believe that particular groupings of objects can even be considered to be a system. Some errors are more prevalent in situations involving gravitational potential energy than elastic potential energy. The difficulties are manifested in both qualitative and quantitative reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-163
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 20 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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