Heat, Temperature and Conduction

American Chemical Society
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Students do an activity in which heat is transferred from hot water to cold metal washers, and then from hot washers to cold water. They view an animation to help them understand what's going on at the molecular level, and then they draw their own representation of the process of conduction.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

- none -

Performance Expectations

MS-PS3-4 Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample.

Clarification Statement: Examples of experiments could include comparing final water temperatures after different masses of ice melted in the same volume of water with the same initial temperature, the temperature change of samples of different materials with the same mass as they cool or heat in the environment, or the same material with different masses when a specific amount of energy is added.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include calculating the total amount of thermal energy transferred.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This resource includes animations about the kinetic energy of hot and cold particles, and about temperature and its effects on particle motion. There is also a teacher background section that talks about why the washers and water didn't change their temperatures by the same amount as each other - this background can be a good jumping-off point for a discussion about the difference between heat and temperature, and about how different types of matter can react differently to the same amount of heat energy. The activity as written does not address the effect of mass on temperature change, though a teacher could extend the activity by having students use very different numbers of washers or very different amounts of water. Extending the activity in this way would also address the portion of the Performance Indicator about planning an investigation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The lesson prompts students to make sense of the data they collect, by investigating models and simulations. They are then asked to create their own model to explain another example of conduction, based on their experiences with their own data collection and some online animations and a simulation. The lesson does not include written texts for student use, so they will be integrating their own data with the molecular animations and simulation provided. If written text is desired, a teacher could modify the provided teacher discussion outline into a written-for-students informational text.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson includes links to two animations and a simulation that illustrate what is happening at the molecular level. If students have already learned about kinetic energy in their introductory study of mechanical energy (which should precede this lesson) they should be able to identify the molecular kinetic energy that is illustrated in these animations, and see how particle motion changes with temperature, and that net energy transfer is always from the hot substance to the cold substance. The lesson does not necessarily address the difference between heat and temperature, though it notes questions that students may ask about that, and provides a link to a teacher background section with an explanation of specific heat.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The lesson makes use of models to show what is happening to particles at a molecular level. These models show energy flow among particles, and the related discussion links that behavior to the temperature changes seen at a macro scale. The word "system" is not mentioned in the lesson as written: a teacher will need to use that word when talking about the particles of metal and water in the cup. A teacher will also need to overtly point out that the model simulates activity on the micro scale in order to help us understand the results of the washer activity on the macro scale.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity specifically addresses the disciplinary core idea about heat energy, via the practice of integrating information from different sources. The connection to the cross-cutting concept, about models giving information about systems, is less overt, though it can be brought to the forefront by some specific vocabulary use on the teacher's part.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson engages students in a simple activity using familiar tools. It elicits preconceptions, allows them to make predictions before exploring the phenomenon, asks them to compare their predictions with experimental findings and come up with a plausible model to explain the results they obtained. Students are prompted to construct their own diagrammatic representation to account for energy transfer. The lesson as written does not allow for students to respond to teacher or peer feedback. A teacher could ask students to modify their own models based on feedback, either from the teacher or from peers. The lesson also does not currently offer ideas for differentiated instruction. The "Extend" section of the 5-E lesson could be used, with teacher support, to reinforce ideas for students who are struggling, or as independent extensions for students who are ready to move along on their own.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Opportunities for formative assessment include teacher questions during discussions, and teacher evaluations of student data collection and of student models. The teacher questions focus primarily on concepts from the disciplinary core idea, and not on the practice or the cross-cutting concept. A teacher would need to incorporate their own questions about these ideas, and/or include them in the student model-making, perhaps by asking students to use evidence to justify the features of their models. The lesson does not include rubrics, scoring guides or exemplars.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Though this lesson does use technology, it does not involve technological interactivity. A video projector will be useful to show animations and a short, simple simulation to students. If more interactivity is desired, consider using the lesson in conjunction with the University of Colorado Boulder PhET interactive simulations about states of matter (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/legacy/states-of-matter-basics and https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/legacy/states-of-matter).