Unit Overview

Lesson Overview

Students solve two mysteries on thermal energy that demonstrate that heat is a form of energy that moves from areas of high heat to low heat. Students are hired by the Better Business Bureau to put their knowledge of heat transfer to the test by investigating two heat-related claims. The unit culminates in an engineering challenge in which students are tasked with making a low-cost, highly effective cooler that can compete with the leading cooler on the market.

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    Solve: Our Life in Thermal Imaging + Winter Glove Mystery

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    Make: Lab Stations: Experience Thermal Energy Transfer

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    Engineer: Apply your Knowledge to Engineer Your Own Insulator and Conductor

  • Next Generation Science Standards
    Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes.* [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the design, controlling the transfer of energy to the environment, and modification of a device using factors such as type and concentration of a substance. Examples of designs could involve chemical reactions such as dissolving ammonium chloride or calcium chloride.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to the criteria of amount, time, and temperature of substance in testing the device.]
    Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.* [Clarification Statement: Examples of devices could include an insulated box, a solar cooker, and a Styrofoam cup.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include calculating the total amount of thermal energy transferred.]
    Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample. [Clarification Statement: Examples of experiments could include comparing final water temperatures after different masses of ice melted in the same volume of water with the same initial temperature, the temperature change of samples of different materials with the same mass as they cool or heat in the environment, or the same material with different masses when a specific amount of energy is added.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include calculating the total amount of thermal energy transferred.]
    Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. [Clarification Statement: Examples of empirical evidence used in arguments could include an inventory or other representation of the energy before and after the transfer in the form of temperature changes or motion of object.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include calculations of energy.]
  • Inquiry Scale

    • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
    • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
    • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.
  • Common Misconceptions
    • Learners’ first inclination is the opposite of reality: They will think that when they open the fridge, cold air escapes or that when their hands get cold, it is cold moving towards their hands. This is best helped with a thorough explanation of particle motion, building off the particle motion unit.
    • Learners may need some scaffolding to help them understand why hot water rises and cold air sinks in the “Make” lab. Ask them to visualize the molecules and consider the density of the molecules at different temperatures.
  • Vocabulary
      • Insulator
      • Conductor
      • Vibrate
      • Cold
      • Dense
      • Hot
      • Particle
  • Content Expert
    • Hans C. von Baeyer
      Chancellor Professor of Physics, Emeritus College of William and Mary
  • Leveled Reading

    * To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

    • How Hot?

      In this article students will read about temperature and the ways that it can be measured. The article explains the concept of average kinetic energy and the differences between alcohol and mercury thermometers.

    • Heat That Shakes

      In this article students will read about the way heat travels through a conductor. They learn about the collisions that happen between molecules and how these spread in a conductor and how they are stopped more quickly in an insulator.

    • Heat in Motion

      In this article students read about how convection moves matter by changing the density of a fluid.

    • Feel the Burn

      This article gives an introduction to fuel and the heat that is released when it's consumed. We can feel this heat energy leaving the things that once contained them when we heat up while exercising or set wood on fire.

    • Light That Heats

      This article talks about how light is different than most kinds of energy. Light can move through space as radiation and we can even feel one part of it as infrared heat!