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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Temperature Map

It is that time of year when the kids will do a tap dance on your last nerve. The weeks before vacations seem to bring out the hyperactivity in all. I try to plan some activities that keep the kids moving. That is not too hard in science but when there is snow on the ground it makes it a little trickier.

This week I want to encourage you to do a little energy watching. A few years back I took every thermometer I could find and asked the students to select an area of the room where they thought there would be a different temperature than the one at their desk. The school was cutting the temperature down so that we could save energy. The inquiry question is always, are we really saving by lowering the temperature?

We reviewed Celsius and Fahrenheit scales how to read a thermometer and potential sources of error. One student suggested that they need to see if their thermometer is reading the same as the others. We did find a significant difference in some of the thermometers. So, we left those aside and continued with the others. The students taped the thermometers to the ceiling, to the flashing on the window, on the door to the hallway, the door jam and a few lower to the ground. We had 40 thermometers out gathering data. I then asked the students to create a temperature map of the room with zones of hotter air and zones of cooler air. This required gathering and sharing the data and locations and creating a map of temperatures. You can use technology to create this map but the students did best with paper and pencil maps and connecting lines of equal temperature like isotherms on a weather map. The map did show a clear pattern of heat loss in the room near the windows and some trapped heat near the ceiling.

More importantly the activity showed the students how to use real data to make decisions. We are insulating our windows with clear plastic and giving the thermometer lab another run to see if we have changed the temperature patterns. One group is making some suggestions to the head custodian about possible ways to move the warmer air from one zone to another.

Now, all of that is great inquiry science. The best part of the activity is that the students recognized that if they had more data they could make better recommendations. We also had a chance to discuss the accuracy and precision of the data as some of the readings were different from class to class. The idea of error analysis then came from a need to understand and not from my static lesson plan.

I cannot think of a better way to face the winter than to infuse some science with some energy saving and a great activity for getting the thinking caps to come out and on.

Energy will be a big theme in this next year and the web sites will be expanding. To get you started here are a few that list compilations of sites with great lesson plans for every grade level:
http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/teachers_resources/lesson_plans.html
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/education/lessonplans/
http://www.powerhousekids.com/kids/TeachersandParents/EnergyConservationLessons/index.htm
http://www.infinitepower.org/lessonplans.htm

Happy mapping!

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