(433e) Enigma of Teaching the Second Law of Thermodynamics: AN Investigation of DIFFERENT Methodologies IN Search for Finding Most Effective Pedagogic MODEL
Based on surveys conducted with thermodynamics students, it is well known that
Thermodynamics poses enigmatic and difficult learning experience for students. And,
therefore this a challenging and interesting subject for teachers and instructors to teach in
such a way that results in deeper learning and understanding. In my view no one has
expressed this enigmatic and mysterious nature of this subject better than Arnold
Sommerfeld (a noted physicist):
?Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through the subject, you
don't understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it
except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don't
understand it, but by that time you are so used to the subject, it doesn't bother you
Sommerfeld's comment applies more to the learning and teaching of the ?second law of
thermodynamics? than any other topic of this subject. I participated in a National
Science Foundation's supported research project entitled ?Delphi Study to Identify the
Most Difficult Concepts for Students to Master in Thermal and Transport Sciences?
which was a part of ?Developing an Outcomes Assessment Instrument for Identifying
Engineering Student Misconceptions in Thermal and Transport Sciences?. Out of 28
different ?most difficult to understand concepts? that were selected (through a rigorous
process of surveying the instructing professors in US), the concept of ?Entropy and
Second Law of Thermodynamics? was rated to be in the ?most misunderstood concept?
category and at the same time it was rated as ?most important concept? by the same
group of teaching professors. This project was conducted jointly by Colorado School of
Mines and University of Colorado. As a teacher of Thermodynamics, the author's
responsibility and keen interest has been in researching, developing and implementing
several methods, tools, and strategies for improving the effectiveness of teaching/learning
of every aspect of the ?engineering thermodynamics? course, but particularly dealing
with the difficulties of teaching the understanding and the skill of using (in problem
solving) the Second Law and Entropy. This paper will present details and outcomes of
this project. Different methods of teaching the ?second law and entropy? that exist in the
literature (textbooks of thermodynamics) were researched and studied in this project.
Those methods were then classified based on common characteristics based criteria.
Special features, strength, and shortcomings of these methods are then analyzed focusing
on why students tend to develop misconceptions and confusions with some of these
models of teaching compared with some others. Then, a new model of teaching the
?second law and entropy? topic is presented that claims to be more effective in
developing understanding and skills of this topic for students.