Key Idea: Transformations and transfers of energy within a system usually result in some energy being released into its surrounding environment causing an increase in the thermal energy of the environment.

Students should know that:

  1. When objects interact with each other or with the surrounding environment, some amount of energy is transformed into thermal energy that is transferred to the surrounding environment.
  2. Because thermal energy always results from these interactions, it is impossible to convert 100% of one form of energy into another form of energy.
  3. Processes that involve an interaction between objects or between an object and the surrounding environment will eventually stop unless additional energy is added to keep them running because the amount of energy available to keep the process running decreases as energy is transferred to the surrounding environment.
  4. Some interactions between objects or between objects and the surrounding environment transfer more energy to their environment than others. For example, increasing the amount of friction, including air resistance, increases the amount of energy transfer to the surrounding environment.
  5. There are ways to reduce the amount of energy transferred to the environment, for example, by using insulation to reduce the amount of energy transferred by conduction or using reflective materials to reduce the amount of energy transferred by radiation.

Boundaries:

  1. Items do not ask students to make any calculations about how much energy is transferred to the surrounding environment. For example, students are not asked to use equations like KE = 1/2mv2 of PE = mgh.
Percent of students answering correctly (click on the item ID number to view the item and additional data)
Item ID
Number
Knowledge Being Assessed Grades
6–8
Grades
9–12
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RG127002

In a windmill, 100% of the kinetic energy from the wind cannot be converted into electrical energy because a small amount of energy will always be converted into thermal energy and transferred to the environment, during each transfer and transformation of energy.

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RG119002

When a battery is used to power a flashlight, a small amount of energy is transformed into thermal energy.

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RG128002

Friction between a carpet and a chair will increase the amount of energy transferred to the environment, so in order to move the chair on the carpet, a man will have to transfer more energy to the chair.

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RG149002

When a student pushes a block across a table energy is transferred to the environment as thermal energy.

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RG170002

Which energy flow diagram represents the flow of energy when a wind-up car is wound and then let go?

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RG065002

When a rubber band is stretched and then let go of, some elastic energy is converted into kinetic energy and some energy is also transferred to the surroundings.

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RG114002

When two balls collide, a small amount of energy was transferred to the environment as thermal energy.

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NG065005

A pendulum stops swinging because the motion energy of the ball is transferred somewhere else, like the air, as the ball swings from side to side.

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RG064002

The amount of kinetic energy a white ball has after being hit by a black ball is less than the amount of kinetic energy the black ball had before the collision because when energy was transferred from the black ball to the white ball, some energy was also transferred to the surroundings.

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Frequency of selecting a misconception

Misconception
ID Number

Student Misconception

Grades
6–8

Grades
9–12

RGM010

Energy can be changed completely from one form to another (no energy losses) (Hapkiewicz, 1992).

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RGM006

Energy only degrades when it is not conserved (Pinto, et al., 2005). In other words, energy does not degrade in systems where energy cannot enter or leave.

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NGM060

Energy can be destroyed (Kruger, 1990; Trumper, 1998).

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EGM048

Living things give inanimate objects energy by carrying or pushing them. For example, a person gives a bike energy by riding it or a bird give a stick energy by carrying it (Herrmann-Abell & DeBoer, 2010).

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NGM040

The total amount of energy an object has cannot change (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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NGM037

An object always gains energy as it moves. For example, the height that a pendulum reaches after it is released is greater than its starting height because it gains energy as it swings (Loverude, 2004).

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NGM010

Energy can be created (Kruger, 1990; Lovrude, 2004; Papadouris et al., 2008).

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NGM009

An object has energy within it that is used up as the object moves (Brook & Driver, 1984; Kesidou & Duit, 1993; Loverude, 2004; Stead, 1980).

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Frequency of selecting a misconception was calculated by dividing the total number of times a misconception was chosen by the number of times it could have been chosen, averaged over the number of students answering the questions within this particular idea.

NGSS Statements

Code

Statement

PS3.B Grade 4

Energy is present whenever there are moving objects, sound, light, or heat. When objects collide, energy can be transferred from one object to another, thereby changing their motion. In such collisions, some energy is typically also transferred to the surrounding air; as a result, the air gets heated and sound is produced.

PS3.D HS

Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms--for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

PS3.B MS

When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time.

PS3.B Grade 4

Energy is present whenever there are moving objects, sound, light, or heat. When objects collide, energy can be transferred from one object to another, thereby changing their motion. In such collisions, some energy is typically also transferred to the surrounding air; as a result, the air gets heated and sound is produced.

PS3.D HS

Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms--for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

PS3.B HS

Uncontrolled systems always evolve toward more stable states--that is, toward more uniform energy distribution (e.g., water flows downhill, objects hotter than their surrounding environment cool down).

PS3.B HS

Uncontrolled systems always evolve toward more stable states--that is, toward more uniform energy distribution (e.g., water flows downhill, objects hotter than their surrounding environment cool down).

PS3.B Grade 4

Energy is present whenever there are moving objects, sound, light, or heat. When objects collide, energy can be transferred from one object to another, thereby changing their motion. In such collisions, some energy is typically also transferred to the surrounding air; as a result, the air gets heated and sound is produced.