Unit Overview

In this thermal energy unit, learners help Mosa solve the mystery of the failed “Willy Warm Gloves: Behind the Infomercial.” Through the video mystery as well as a hands-on modeling activity, learners will discover that thermal energy is transferred from areas of high thermal energy to areas of low thermal energy by the motion of particles. After learners observe physical evidence of this in a lab setting, they will use their knowledge of thermal energy transfer to design an insulator or conductor.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Winter Glove Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Lab Stations: Experience Thermal Energy Transfer
Medium engineerEngineer: Apply your Knowledge to Engineer Your Own Insulator and Conductor

You have two options for the solve: a live video or animated mystery! In the video phenomenon, students develop hypotheses about heat from a thermal imaging camera and conduct an investigation to learn about heat transfer. In the animation, student help Mosa Mack solve the mystery of why the new “Willy Warm Gloves” are falling short. Utilizing new vocabulary and guided video questions, learners discover that the problem may reside in some of Willy’s “science” about how his gloves block cold from getting in. (80 minutes)

Students design and conduct their own experiments to determine the best insulator and conductor. (100 minutes)

It’s time for a challenge! Who can design an insulator that keeps an ice cube colder than the leading brand? Building off what they learned in the “Make” and based on data they collect on different materials, learners will design the best insulator for this challenge. (200 minutes)

Next Generations Science Standards

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.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Chemical Reactions
  • Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
  • Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem
  • Definitions of Energy
  • Developing Possible Solutions
  • Optimizing the Design Solution

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Energy and Matter
  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity

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.


    • Insulator
    • Conductor
    • Vibrate
    • Cold
    • Dense
    • Hot
    • Particle

Content Expert Title

  • Hans C. von Baeyer
    Chancellor Professor of Physics, Emeritus College of William and Mary


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Heat in Motion

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

  • 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.

  • 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.