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Conceptual Physics: 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 (9)

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

Activities:

In this investigation, students explore thermal absorption by using temperature probes connected to computer USB interfaces to examine the effects of radiant heat on three metal cans of varying colors. Step-by-step directions make the set-up easy.

Item Type: Inquiry-Based Lab
Level: Grades 10-12
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

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

Content Support For Teachers:

This tutorial features content support in fundamentals of heat and thermal properties. Related classroom labs, demonstrations, and assessments are included.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: High School Physics

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 (11)

Lesson Plans:

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

References and Collections:

This resource provides visual tools for helping students understand beginning thermodynamic processes.  Animations, interactive simulations, practical problems with online solutions, and illustrated explanations provide a comprehensive scope of activities for classroom use.

Item Type: Collection
Level: Introductory Physics

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

This is a set of eight animations relating to heat and thermodynamics.  Topics include Brownian motion, Maxwell Distribution, and behavior of gas molecules subjected to heating and cooling.  Explanations and calculations accompany each image.  Most also link to videos which more fully explore the phenomena.

Item Type: Animation
Level: High School Physics

Student Tutorials:

This item is a study of common sources of energy.  Students answer questions about the usefulness of nuclear, fossil, and gravitational sources of energy.  Included are notes and answers for instructors.

Item Type: Instructor's Guide
Level: High School Physics

A visual platform to analyze thermofluids problems, verify hand calculations, pursue what-if scenarios, visualize thermal systems, and engage in a life-long journey to master thermodynamics

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Introductory Physics

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 (3)

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 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