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Physical Science

Thermal and Heat Energy

Author Post
Cynthia Fong Cynthia Fong 3255 Points

Hi All, OK - as I was going over the Energy SciPack - I really liked the portion on Thermal Energy and the "distinctions" of heat versus temperature and related energy. I think I contribute to the confusion many of my students have because I tend to associate heat and thermal energy as one and the same. I'm not sure how to go about dispelling this misconception...since I am still working on figuring it out on how to say and teach it...any suggestions on how to introduce this topic within an earth/space science class that is hands on and not boring for the kids? I like to use the ideas of convection, conduction and radiation and relate it to forces within the earth to help my students develop the concept of an active earth that is due to "energetic forces". And I use boiling water and ice water...but again - how to keep the distinctions between heat and temperature as well as energy - I see that as a challenge. Any ideas or commentary on what you found worked?

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Hi Cynthia,
Dr. Bill Robertson has a book chapter from his "Stop Faking It: Energy" book available in the Learning Center. It is filled with great ideas and adds to one's content knowledge on the concept of thermal energy and temperature. It is called:
Temp-a-chur and Thermal Energy . I have found Dr. Robertson's explanations, illustrations, and activities to be very easy to understand.

My post refers to Cynthia's difficulty in teaching the distinction between heat and temperature, a problem that all of us face when teaching at a grade level in which students are not exposed to kinetic theory model. I used to introduce `water flow' analogy, which is also used to teach other concepts such as electrical potential difference. The method which I have used is described at Slow motion video can be used to present the analogy more effectively. The webpage can be accessed by copying its URL and pasting it on your browser window (instead of clicking it resulting in an error message). Thanks.

Loren Nomura Loren Nomura 4055 Points

Talking about the forces of the Earth is a great way to give students examples out of their everyday lives when relating it to the three methods of heat transference! I think the classic examples you could use are convection in the air, and even beneath the Earth's trust. Radiation would be the sun. I think conduction is by far the easiest one to teach. I had students pour equally cool buckets of ice water into a plastic bin, wooden container, and a metal pan and had them touch the sides of each. Everyone agreed that the metal pan felt the coldest, even though they were all technically the same temp. I didn't actually use this lesson plan at, because it was so time consuming and confusing at times to read, but depending on your audience and whether or not you're OK with implementing the lesson, it might be something to look into!

Cynthia Fong Cynthia Fong 3255 Points

Aloha All, Thanks for the links and comments. Carolyn – Thanks the link to the chapter. I have to say, his illustrations make the subject matter content more understandable – at least for an introductory level. The idea and the word kinetic energy will be new for most of my students but I am confident, using some of the examples, it will be understandable (if I don’t flub it up). Panamalai – I do like the water analogy. I tend to use a water analogy in terms of electricity and current. I liked the visual – which is something I feel my students could personally visualize when they think about it – in terms of heat is the flow of temperature. However, I will comment that the article writer is someone who has an understanding of thermodynamics but due to his advertising of his website “ScienceAgainstEvolution”, it raised big red flags as I am not in favor or agreement with this site. (I am the type to check different sources, especially from the internet, to be sure they are reasonable). Loren – thanks for the link to the article. I really like it and it has some very simple and easy to do experiments to illustrate the different phenomenon’s, which are important for students to develop their understanding.

Thanks Aloha, I'm sorry for the oversight in that I didn't see that the website is his personal one with the phrase "Science Against Evolution" when I browsed. If I had seen it (which I should have done), I would not have selected it for my thread. I apologize for this. I am also not in favor of selecting personal websites in our forum. I apologize once again. Thanks.

Cynthia Fong Cynthia Fong 3255 Points

Aloha Panamalai, No problem - in our busy lives, we often all miss something. I just don't want this fellow seeing his url posted on NSTA and use it to make his case. We both are on the same page. Regardless - thanks so much for your input! Cindy Fong

Yes indeed,thanks Cyndi.I realize that `Aloha' is a Hawaiian greeting (which I had mistaken to be part of your name. I;;m sorry about it). Aloha.

Don Dean Don Dean 200 Points

Re: heat vs. temperature I use the Smartboard and a little drama for middle-schoolers to get the concept. 1) Chose a volunteer. S/he chooses two friends to help him/her out of a dangerous situation. 2) Draw / act volunteer instantly frozen in a block of ice. 3) Poll the class: helper A has hot water (what is the hottest possible water temperature (normally))? Helper B has cold water at 5 degrees C. Which will save your classmate faster? 4) Act giving A a thimble full of water at 100 degrees C. 5) B has a swimming pool full of water at 5 degrees. On the Smartboard, drop the volunteer into the swimming pool (bobbing movements). Which saved him/her? Class discussion. Although A was hotter (a higher temperature), it didn't have much total heat and only melted an edge off of the block. The swimming pool had more total energy. Don

Cynthia Fong Cynthia Fong 3255 Points

Hi Don, Awesome...I'm going to have to try that one with my smartboard.

Kristin Fitzgerald Kristin Fitzgerald 350 Points

Good idea with the smart board. I have an active slate, not a board, and I'll have to try this out.

Rudy Eckstein Rudy Eckstein 50 Points

I'm workshopping a version of the coffee-cup calorimetry lab. I'm working on differentiating endothermic/exothermic reactions by saying the reaction absorbs energy (lowering temperature) or releases energy (raising temperature). Thanks for pointing out the misconception of definition confusion. By stressing that temperature is a measurement of heat energy in the same way that speed is a measurement of kinetic energy, do the students seperate these or is that just confusing them more?

In terms of heat vs. temperature, I emphasize to my students that heat is the actual energy being transferred between objects (through contact), and temperature is a measurement of this energy. I like the analogy of kinetic energy and speed. Another analogy could be matter vs. mass. My chemistry students seem to grasp the concept once I make it clear that there is a distinct difference.

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

I've gathered some resources from the LC and put them together in a collection on thermal and heat energy called Is It Heat or Is It Temperature? The LC has some great resources that ladder content background and offer insight to teachers on this question. ~patty

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

I agree that this issue becomes much easier once students grasp kinetic theory. I have used billiards as an analogy to introduce this concept; when a faster ball strikes a slower ball the faster one slows down and the slower one speeds up- energy transfer. Here is a link to a unit from the University of Missouri

Ronaldo Relador Ronaldo Relador 45295 Points

I loved the sci-guide on Properties of Objects and Materials centered for young learners: There are graphic animations that illustrate the effect of heat on the movement of molecules or particles of matter showing the changes in kinetic energy that is actually involves in each time.

Helen Hicks Helen Hicks 2635 Points

One simple science lab I did to introduce heat having two cups of water, one cold water cup and one hot water cup. Students hypothesis which cup (hot or cold) would the food coloring disperse faster in. All groups did the cold water cup first, I placed the food coloring in they were to start the stop watch and stop the stop watch when the food coloring dispersed. Students did the same thing with the hot water cup. After all the teams were done. I put a cold water and hot water cup in front of the classroom where all the students could see a side by side comparison of the food coloring being placed inside at the same time. Of course the food coloring disperse faster in the hot water because the hot water molecules are moving at a greater speed because of thermal energy. I will try to upload the worksheet lab once I can find it. Thanks, Helen

Jeannie Ohta Jeannie Ohta 1105 Points

Cynthia Fong- I have a possible answer to the question heat vs.temp. Since the definition of temperature is the measure of kinetic energy of the molecules in an object; the operative word here being measure, if you liken it to a thermometer, which is a measuring tool that might ring a bell. Whereas heat is the energy that is transferred from one object to another when the objects have different temperatures. Like putting a cold lid on a hot pot, the heat of the pot transfers its energy to the lid until they become the same temperature. Does that make it a little easier for the students to visualize?

Daniel Carroll Dan Carroll 18570 Points

A very important distinction to make. There are on-line videos of liquid nitrogen boiling on a block of dry ice. Both at very low temperatures, but the N is boiling because the heat is transferring from the dry ice(cold) to the N(colder). Heat is a transfer of energy. Temperature is related to the kinetic energy of the particles. Kinetic energy can be increased(T) if you do work on the particles(heat)

Antonio Chaves Antonio Chaves 150 Points

I recently designed a calorimetry lab that utilizes a watt meter. Here is the video:

Measuring the Efficiency of an Immersion Heater

For the record, I normally teach environmental science. I use activities like this to enhance the energy literacy of my students.

Adah Stock Adah Stock 101510 Points

Hi All: The following website sums up the difference between heat and thermal energy. You might find it useful and it is written for kids. Adah

Tina Harris Tina Harris 65805 Points

This was an interesting article in Scientific American News about heat energy and temperature. The physics is a bit out-of-reach but the article is well written an interesting and I learned a lot from it (I always wondered if there was a special thermometer somewhere like the special meter - and this article answers that question!)

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