Virtual Science Teachers

Bell Ringers: Energy

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States of Matter

Use the arrows located at the bottom of the presentation to navigate through all the bell ringer questions.

  1. All Solids are Hard and Inflexible: People often think of solids as being hard and inflexible. However, solids can be soft, flexible, or even bendable, such as rubber or clay.
  2. Liquids Don’t Have a Set Volume: While liquids take the shape of their container, they do have a fixed volume. The volume does not change regardless of the container’s shape.
  3. Gases Have No Mass: Gases are often considered weightless, but they have mass just like solids and liquids. Air, for instance, has mass, and its weight can be measured.
  4. Plasma is Just Hot Gas: While plasma is similar to gas in many ways, it has unique properties because its particles are ionized. It behaves differently from gas, especially in the presence of magnetic fields.
  5. Changes in State Require a Change in Temperature: People often think that changes in state always occur at a specific temperature (such as the boiling point for a liquid to a gas). However, changes in pressure can also induce a change in state without a change in temperature.
  6. Water is the Only Substance that can Exist in All Three States: While water is a common example of a substance that can be solid, liquid, or gas, many other substances can exist in all three states under different conditions of temperature and pressure.
  7. Solids are Always Heavier Than Liquids: Density, not state, determines whether a substance will be heavier or lighter than another. Some solids can be lighter than liquids, depending on their makeup and structure.
  8. Particles Stop Moving in Solids: Even in solids, particles are in constant motion, vibrating around fixed positions. They don’t stop moving entirely; they are just held in a more rigid structure.
  9. All Matter Exists in One of the Three Basic States: Besides solid, liquid, and gas, matter can also exist in plasma and other exotic states such as Bose-Einstein condensates under specific conditions.
  10. Freezing and Melting Points are the Same for All Substances: Different substances have different freezing and melting points, and they can also vary with pressure.

Heat Transfer

Use the arrows located at the bottom of the presentation to navigate through all the bell ringer questions.

  1. Heat and Temperature are the Same: This is a classic misconception. Heat is a measure of the total energy in a substance, while temperature measures the average kinetic energy of the particles in a substance. One can have a high temperature with a small amount of substance (and thus low heat) or a low temperature with a large amount of substance (and thus high heat).

  2. Cold is Transferred Like Heat: As mentioned previously, cold is not something that is transferred. Heat moves from a warmer object to a cooler one. What we perceive as cold is the removal or absence of heat.

  3. Conduction is the Only Form of Heat Transfer: Students may not initially grasp that heat can be transferred through convection and radiation, in addition to conduction. These different methods of transfer may require clear explanation and demonstration.

  4. Metals Heat Up Faster Because They are Good Conductors: While metals do conduct heat quickly, they don’t necessarily heat up faster. A metal spoon in a hot liquid feels hot quickly because it conducts heat to your hand rapidly, not because the spoon itself is heating up faster than the liquid.

  5. Insulators Keep Things Warm: Insulators don’t “keep things warm” in the sense of generating heat. They reduce the rate at which heat is transferred, so they keep hot things hot longer and cold things cold longer.

  6. Thicker Insulation Always Means More Insulation: While thickness can be a factor, the type of material and its specific properties are equally (if not more) important. Some very thick materials might not insulate as well as thinner materials designed specifically for insulation.

  7. Heat Rises: This is a common phrase, but it’s not the heat that rises; it’s the hot fluid (like air) that rises. When a fluid is heated, it becomes less dense and rises. Cooler, denser fluid then takes its place. This creates a convection current, but the concept is often oversimplified as “heat rises.”

  8. Radiation Requires Air to Travel Through: Unlike conduction and convection, which often involve a medium like air or water, radiation does not require any medium. Radiant heat can travel through a vacuum, such as the heat from the Sun traveling through space to reach Earth.

  9. Water Boils Hotter with Salt: Some believe that adding salt to water makes it boil at a higher temperature, and while this is technically true, the effect is minimal with the small amounts of salt used in cooking.

  10. Microwaves Heat Food from the Inside Out: Microwaves heat food by exciting water molecules, which are more concentrated near the surface of food. This can give the appearance of heating from the inside out, but it’s not the case.

Thermal Conductors and Insulators

Use the arrows located at the bottom of the presentation to navigate through all the bell ringer questions.


1. All Metals are Good Conductors: While most metals are indeed good conductors of heat, there are exceptions. For example, bismuth and lead are not as good conductors as copper or aluminum. The misconception can lead to overgeneralization about materials.

2. Insulators Do Not Conduct Heat at All: Insulators slow down the transfer of heat, but they don’t completely stop it. Some students may think that insulators completely block the flow of heat, but they actually just reduce it.

3. Thicker Materials are Always Better Insulators: The thickness of a material does not necessarily make it a good insulator. The type of material and its specific properties, such as density and structure, have a more significant effect on its insulating abilities.

4. Conduction is the Only Way Heat Travels: Some students might think that heat only travels through conduction, but there are also convection and radiation. These three mechanisms are often taught together, but students may not fully grasp the distinctions between them.

5. Cold is Transferred Just Like Heat: There is a common misconception that cold is “transferred” in the same way that heat is. In reality, what we perceive as cold is the absence or removal of heat. Cold doesn’t flow from one object to another; rather, heat is transferred away from one object and absorbed by another.

6. Wood is Always a Good Insulator: While wood is often used as an example of an insulator, not all types of wood have the same insulating properties. Some kinds of wood are denser and may conduct heat more than others.

7. Air is Always a Good Insulator: Air is often cited as a good insulator, but this can be misleading without context. While stagnant air can be a good insulator, moving air (as in a breeze) can actually carry heat away from an object, thereby cooling it.

8. The Feel of a Material Determines Its Conductivity: Students might think that if something feels cold, it must be a good conductor. This is not always the case. For example, metal feels cold to the touch because it conducts heat away from your skin quickly, not because it is inherently cold.

9. Adding Insulators Makes Something Hotter: Insulators prevent the flow of heat, so adding an insulator to something hot will keep it hot for longer, but it won’t increase its temperature. Some students might think that insulators can generate or add heat to a system, which is not the case.

10. Water is Always a Good Conductor of Heat: Water is often mistakenly considered a good conductor of heat. In reality, it’s a relatively poor conductor but an excellent convector. This distinction might not be clear to some middle schoolers.

Teaching these concepts with hands-on experiments and clear demonstrations can often help to clarify these misconceptions. It’s essential to provide real-world examples and thorough explanations to help students grasp these somewhat abstract concepts.

Conservation of Energy and Forms of Energy

Use the arrows located at the bottom of the presentation to navigate through all the bell ringer questions.

  1. Heat and Temperature are the Same Thing: As mentioned previously, heat is a form of energy, while temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of particles. They are related but distinct concepts.

  2. Sound is a Form of Energy: Some students may think of sound as a type of energy, but sound is a wave that transfers energy through vibrations in a medium. The energy associated with sound is typically kinetic energy.

  3. All Energy is Visible: Students may associate energy primarily with visible forms, like light or moving objects. However, many forms of energy, such as chemical or nuclear energy, are not directly visible.

  4. Batteries Store Electrical Energy: Batteries store chemical energy, which is converted into electrical energy when the battery is used. The distinction between the stored energy and the energy it produces might not be clear to some students.

  5. Food Contains a Specific Type of ‘Food Energy’: The energy in food is chemical energy stored in the bonds between atoms. It can be released and converted into other forms of energy, like kinetic energy in the body. Some students may think of this as a unique type of energy exclusive to food.

  6. Electricity is a Source of Energy: Electricity is often mistaken for a primary energy source, but it is a secondary energy source. It’s a medium for transporting energy that has been generated from other primary sources like fossil fuels or nuclear reactions.

  7. Renewable Energy Sources Mean Unlimited Energy: While renewable energy sources like wind and solar can be replenished naturally, they are not necessarily unlimited. There are physical and practical constraints to how much energy can be harvested from these sources at a given time.

Endothermic and Exothermic Chemical Reactions Coming Soon

Temperature and Thermal Energy Coming Soon