Concord Consortium: Melting Ice

The Concord Consortium
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Graph , Instructor Guide/Manual , Model , Phenomenon , Problem Set , Answer Key , Activity
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.



This activity blends a hands-on investigation with a computer simulation, as students use probeware to observe and graph the changing temperature of a melting ice cube. In the first step, learners use a sensor to monitor temperature as an ice cube melts in a bowl of room temperature water. Next, temperature is monitored as a second ice cube  is placed in a solution of salt water mixed at the concentration of seawater. In which substance will the ice melt faster?  A digital graph interface allows easy plotting of Temperature vs. Time, which can be accessed via free software from the developer or run directly in a browser with newer probeware products. The activity concludes with a simulation of the molecular structure of a hot liquid and a cold solid. By clicking “Withdraw the Barrier”, learners watch a gauge that shows changes in average kinetic energy of the particles as they interact when mixed.

Note: This activity requires temperature sensing probeware, which has become relatively inexpensive ($20-30 per probe). Some probeware runs through an app that can be opened directly in a browser -- meaning that software doesn’t have to be installed by your IT department. For help selecting the best probeware for your needs, see this link:

Concord Consortium - Probeware Connection Options

For an Instructor’s Guide with answer keys and teaching tips, click here:  Teacher's Guide

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

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
The relationship between average kinetic energy and types of matter is directly studied in the Melting Ice activity, especially the molecular model which displays changes in average kinetic energy as hotter molecules mix with cooler molecules. It may help to review the scientific definition of temperature -- a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles in a substance. In this activity, students will observe that the melting rate for ice placed in tap water is different from that of seawater. The composition of the water makes a difference in the average kinetic energy of the samples.

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
Students will analyze the data from the Temperature vs. Time graphs, which are automatically generated by the sensor software. Be sure the graph screens show “Device Connected” before students click Start. If they are repeating a procedure, instruct them to click Zero to return the sensor to the starting point. Show them how to scale their digital graphs by placing their cursor directly on either the X or Y axis.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This is a good time to review the idea that not all science research is in the form of a controlled experiment. In this investigation, students will not be asked to identify dependent and independent variables, nor will they construct an experimental design. They will be engaging in systematic observation and detailed description of a phenomenon in a manner that can be replicated. They will observe the process of an ice cube melting in an empty cup, an ice cube melting in a cup of room temperature water, and an ice cube melting in a cup of salt water which is prepared to be the same concentration as seawater. Students will first predict what Temperature vs. Time graphs will look like, then they will collect data with a temperature sensing device that uses a USB connection to generate a real-time graph of Temperature vs. Time. If you’re not using browser-run software, make sure the Concord Consortium Sensor Connector software has been installed at each computer station before class. (It’s free.) Float the room to be sure the probeware is connected properly.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This activity provides a simple way for students to explore how the rate of melting is dependent upon the nature of the matter -- tap water melts at a different rate than salt water. The auto-generated graphs of Temperature vs. Time further help to drive home the point. The activity asks students to compare the melting rate for an ice cube in a freezing cold cup, an ice cube in a cup at room temperature, and ice cubes placed in both hot and cold water. By changing the temperature of the container and the temperature of the liquid in the container, students are able to do small-scale modeling of natural processes (for example, how does ice melting in a warmer ocean compare with ice melting in a cold Antarctic sea?) This can lead to the Core Idea -- how does the environment affect changing temperature of a matter sample?

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Even after formal physics instruction, students don’t distinguish well between heat and temperature. The misconception that temperature is the same as heat is particularly resistant to change. The hands-on investigation and companion simulation in this resource work together to help students build correct conceptions about temperature and how it is related to kinetic energy of particles at the molecular level. The resource aims to promote understanding of the scientific meaning of temperature as a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles in a sample. A thermometer (in this case, the temperature probe sensor) measures the average kinetic energy and records these values as temperature. The digital graphs display the temperature change over time. The simulation depicts the molecular motion of a frozen solid and a hot liquid in two separate containers, before and after they are mixed together. A gauge of average kinetic energy is displayed throughout the simulation to let learners connect the temperature changes in their graphs to the idea of average kinetic energy. It can be helpful to explicitly ask your students how the graphs and the simulation are connected and what it tells them about the meaning of temperature, as opposed to heat. (In science, heat refers to the transfer of thermal energy from a warmer-to-cooler object.)

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
Students can likely see the connection between the Melting Ice probeware activity and the simulation of changing molecular motion when a hot liquid is introduced to a cold solid. Still, for some, this idea may not be readily obvious. They may need teacher guidance and probing questions to help them understand how molecular motion in liquids and solids affects the macroscopic patterns we see in ice melting.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This assembled package integrates the three Dimensions of the NGSS in the following ways: 1) It explicitly addresses the middle school Disciplinary Core Idea MS-PS3.A.4 that defines temperature in terms of the average kinetic energy of the particles in a substance. 2) It integrates Science and Engineering Practices seamlessly through use of technology that features sensing probeware and auto-generated graphing tools. It also features an interactive molecular model to help students connect the macroscopic phenomena with molecular-level interactions. In addition, registered users may freely access digital tools for capturing, annotating, and sharing mathematical data and creating digital reports. 3) It integrates the Crosscutting Concept “Patterns” by automatically generating graphs of Temperature vs. Time, which make it much easier for young adolescents to visualize the process of state change and its effect on temperature.

  • Instructional Supports: While a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide is available, access to it is not evident to the user. It exists in a different interface than the Concord Consortium STEM resource database, where the “Melting Ice” activity is combined with two additional interactives to form an instructional unit titled “Phase Change”. For teachers who are interested, here is a link: Teacher's Guide

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Assessment is embedded throughout the digital resource in the form of elicitation questions, graph prediction activities, problem sets related to the data collection, and analysis questions designed to promote critical thinking about how to explain the phenomena observed. Students will also reflect on how their predictions differed from the actual data produced by the sensing probeware. This component would be rated “Superior”, except that it lacks a readily viewable answer key for teacher reference.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The Concord Consortium has been at the forefront of integrating sensing probeware with simulations that promote molecular literacy. The technology is consistently reliable across all the major browsers. Probeware isn’t free, but the Concord Consortium website provides robust assistance for teachers in locating the appropriate product to meet their particular needs. The simulations are all developed by scientists and content experts, who take part in field testing to ensure their usability in the classroom setting.