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Physics First: Heat and Temperature Units

Many students cannot discriminate between the terms "heat" and "temperature," and even use them interchangeably. The persistence of this confusion can present a barrier to understanding other important physical science concepts.

  The Relationship Between Heat and Temperature (10)

Lesson Plans:

The sun is the ultimate renewable energy source. This page provides step-by-step directions for constructing a solar oven using simple, easily-obtained materials. It includes a pattern for building the oven, detailed background information, and construction plans for student use.

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 6-10

A great way to help students understand the relationship between heat and temperature is with a look at the behavior of gases in closed containers.  This set of 3 Java-based labs for grades 7-9 is fun and interactive, yet also meets rigorous standards.  Complete lesson plans are included.  Try teaming it with the PhET Gas Properties simulation.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 5-8

Activities:

In this entertaining simulation, students pump gas molecules into a chamber.  They can control volume, heat, and change gravity. A pop-up histogram helps them see the connection between kinetic energy and heat. This versatile resource can be adapted for a variety of courses and learner capability levels.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

Lots of bang for the buck in this simple Shockwave tutorial. Part 1 helps dispel the myth that "gas is weightless". Part 2 demonstrates density of gases as students place air, water, helium, and oil in a virtual cylinder. Part 3 explores what happens at the molecular level as gases are heated/cooled.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 5-8

This inquiry-based module explores the difference between heat and temperature in an engaging interactive format that includes 12 computer models. Students learn that temperature is a measure of kinetic energy and heat is the transfer of energy from hot systems to cooler ones. The simulations help students visualize that temperature is related to both speed and mass of atoms. Registered teacher-users also have access to a Teacher's Guide.

Item Type: Teaching Module
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: Two Class Periods

This multimedia activity from the American Chemical Society takes a close look at what's happening on a molecular level to make the liquid in an alcohol thermometer go up or down. Animations provide visualizations of molecules moving in a solid, liquid, and gas. The module also includes a hands-on experiment and a lab where kids construct their own molecular models.

Item Type: Multimedia Lesson
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: Two Class Periods

This activity combines a hands-on lab with a computer simulation as students investigate the changing temperature of a melting ice cube. They monitor the temperature of ice melting in: 1) water, and 2) salt water. Using interactive tools, students plot Temperature vs. Time for each environment. The activity concludes with a simulation of the atomic structure of a hot liquid vs. a cold liquid. What happens at the atomic level when they mix?

Item Type: Multimedia Lesson
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: One Class Period

Content Support For Teachers:

Confused about the difference between heat and temperature?  You're not alone.  This is a well-organized primer written by teachers to help fellow teachers understand the basics of temperature and thermodynamics.

Item Type: Online Tutorial

A tutorial for teachers:
It is well known that many older students do not discriminate between the terms "heat" and "temperature," and even use them interchangeably when describing thermal phenomena. This confusion arises because, in the elementary grades, the words are used as though their meaning is obvious, with little attention paid to developing simple operational definitions.  This resource clarifies the distinct meaning of each of these terms and the relationship between them.

Item Type: Workshop Materials

Student Tutorials:

An online tutorial on heat transfer through radiation, conduction, and convection.  It is written in "bite-size" pieces so that adolescent learners can grasp the concepts more easily and connect information with prior knowledge.

Item Type: Student Tutorial
Level: Grades 6-9

  Teaching about Heat and Thermal Energy (8)

Lesson Plans:

This excellent resource covers three difficult concepts in one multimedia package: 1) Substances change phase because of changes in the motion of their atoms or molecules, 2) Heating a substance increases molecular motion while cooling decreases it, and 3) Volume increases slightly when water is heated (in other words, volume is not always conserved in a physical change, though mass IS conserved.) Includes two interactive simulations and a hands-on lab.

Item Type: Multimedia Lesson
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One Class Period

This lesson for high school physics or chemistry was developed specifically to accompany the PhET simulation States of Matter. It guides students in an exploration of particle behavior as it relates to phase, molecular polarity, and how force interactions occur at the molecular level. It is intended for students who already have functional knowledge of basic kinetic molecular theory. See link to simulation directly below.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 9-12

Great simulation to promote understanding of how molecules behave in solids, liquids, and gases. Add or remove heat and watch the motion of the molecules as they change phase. Push the pump and change the volume of matter in the closed container and watch the pressure gauge respond. More advanced students can compare the potential energy graphs for neon, argon, oxygen, and water -- which all have different interaction potential. For detailed Student Guide, see the item directly above.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

Activities:

In this entertaining simulation, students pump gas molecules into a chamber.  They can control volume, heat, and change gravity. A pop-up histogram helps them see the connection between kinetic energy and heat. This versatile resource can be adapted for a variety of courses and learner capability levels.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

This activity explores the energy that can be provided by burning fuels. Students measure the energy transferred from the combustion of a chemical fuel such as paraffin (candle wax) or diethylene glycol (Sterno). The author has provided extensive support (illustrated diagrams, suggested discussion questions, data tables, safety guidelines).

Item Type: Lab Investigation
Level: Grades 6-9

This standards-based experiment promotes deeper understanding of the sun's role in powering our planet. Students build a simple device to measure the amount of solar radiation the Earth receives from the sun. Using data from the experiment, they will then calculate the solar constant -- the amount of incoming solar radiation the earth receives from the sun per square meter per second. Lesson meets numerous national standards for both math and science.

Item Type: Experiment
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: Two Class Periods

Content Support For Teachers:

This item, written by a team of teachers, offers content support in heat and thermodynamics, kinetic theory, and a straightforward explanation of thermal radiation.  The historical perspectives make this a well-rounded resource.

Item Type: Online Tutorial

Student Tutorials:

All objects emit infrared radiation, but human eyes cannot see these wavelengths. Infrared is essentially heat radiation and is emitted by anything with a temperature. This tutorial, produced with infrared photography, lets students "see" infrared images of a cup of hot coffee, Old Faithful geyser, ice cubes, cold and warm-blooded animals, hot springs, and more.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 6-12

  Environmental Concerns: Global Climate and Greenhouse Effect (4)

Lesson Plans:

This lesson for 9th grade Physical Science promotes understanding of the Earth's Greenhouse Effect.  It goes into detail to explain solar radiation and how greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb infrared radiation to maintain a heat cycle.  Students further explore the greenhouse effect through activities using 2-liter plastic soda bottles, thermometers, and a reflector lamp.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grade 9
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

A week-long unit on the processes associated with global climate change.  Seven creative classroom activities promote understanding of the carbon cycle, transpiration, and how human activity is impacting the climate of our planet.

Item Type: Teaching Module
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: One Week

A module for 9th grade Physical Science on the processes associated with global climate change.  Includes seven creative classroom activities to promote understanding of the carbon cycle, transpiration, and how human activity is impacting the climate of our planet.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grade 9
Duration: Multi-Day

Activities:

A thought-provoking simulation that can be adapted for grades 7-12.  Students can select Ice Age, the year 1750, or the present to see how changing greenhouse gas levels cause the climate to change.  Teacher-created labs and lessons are also available.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

  Understanding Temperature and Heat for Teachers of the Early Grades (1)

Lesson Plans:

A tutorial for teachers:
It is well known that many older students do not discriminate between the terms "heat" and "temperature," and even use them interchangeably when describing thermal phenomena. This confusion arises because, in the elementary grades, the words are used as though their meaning is obvious, with little attention paid to developing simple operational definitions.  This resource clarifies the distinct meaning of each of these terms and the relationship between them.

Item Type: Online Tutorial