A 60 minute lesson in which students will investigate which materials are the best thermal insulators.
Prior to conducting the lesson, review the procedure and equipment required for the experiment. Teachers may choose to conduct the experiment as a whole class activity, rather than a small group activity. This could also depend on the availability of resources and the amount of adult support available.
Sealable plastic bags
Small measuring cylinders (medicine cups or similar)
Ask the students to sit in a circle. Encourage them to take note of how warm or cool their hands are feeling. Remind the students that the temperature of their hands is due to the amount of heat energy they have at this particular moment in time.
Place an ice cube in a sealable plastic bag and pass it around the circle, allowing each student to hold the bag in their hands for a few seconds each. Once the ice cube has been passed on, encourage them to silently note any difference in the temperature of their hands.
After each student has had a turn, facilitate a discussion about the activity. Ask guiding questions, such as:
What difference did you notice in the temperature of your hands after holding the ice cube?
What has happened to the ice cube since being passed around?
How would you describe the movement of heat that has taken place?
Ask the students to suggest what could be done to slow the transfer of heat from their hands to the ice cube. Be aware of the misconception that it is ‘cold’ moving from the ice cube to the hand, rather than heat moving from the hand to the ice cube. Guide the students toward the idea of using an insulator.
Explain to the students that they are going to be conducting a science experiment to investigate whether bubble wrap, paper towel or tin foil is the best insulator of heat.
Remind the students that, when conducting experiments, scientists make predictions about what they think will happen. Support the students to record their prediction about which material will be the best insulator of heat and why.
Discuss the constants and variables for the experiment and allow the students to record these on their worksheet. Support the students to draw and label a diagram of how the experiment will be set up.
Monitor and support the students as they conduct the experiment in small groups. Alternatively, the experiment could be conducted as a whole class activity. When measuring the amount of the water in each plastic bag at the end of the thirty minute time period, ensure that the students do not lose any liquid (as this forms the basis of the experiment data).
Encourage the students to independently answer the questions in the discussion section of the experiment booklet. Support them to also write a conclusion for the experiment, explaining whether or not their hypothesis was correct.
Allow the students to share their results from the experiment. Ask guiding questions, such as:
What did you discover about thermal insulators?
How might this information be useful for scientists?
Would it be a good idea to serve a hot drink in a paper cup? Why or why not?
Collect the students’ experiment booklets. These could be included in a portfolio of work samples and used to assess the students’ understanding of the unit objectives.
Encourage more capable students to support less confident peers during the experiment.
Allow less confident students to be supported by more capable peers during the experiment.
Suggested Assessment Strategies
used strategic whole class or individual questioning
observed student participation during learning activities