(433e) Enigma of Teaching the Second Law of Thermodynamics: AN Investigation of DIFFERENT Methodologies IN Search for Finding Most Effective Pedagogic MODEL

Authors: 
Sharma, M. P. - Presenter, University of Wyoming


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

anymore.?

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.