Can You Copperplate?

TryEngineering (though developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers - IEEE, for the TryEngineering portal)
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.



This lesson plan introduces students to the process of plating one metallic object with another metal and the importance of this process in engineering applications. With parameters, students design strategies to copperplate other metal objects using pennies and a vinegar solution. After sharing their strategies with the class, students revise their plans then test their effectiveness. Groups come back together to share results and decide what strategy worked best or could work best. The lesson information provides significant, useful background information on the science and engineering involved in this process. It connects to disciplinary core ideas in middle school physical science and engineering design.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-PS1-2 Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Clarification Statement: Examples of reactions could include burning sugar or steel wool, fat reacting with sodium hydroxide, and mixing zinc with hydrogen chloride.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to analysis of the following properties: density, melting point, boiling point, solubility, flammability, and odor.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students observe that a change has taken place (copperplating) and describe that change, but they do not have to discuss chemical changes as this lesson is set out. High quality background information and reading discusses the chemical reactions taking place. Teachers should ask students to give evidence as to whether or not a chemical reaction has occurred. This conversation could have interesting nuances as the reactant (copper) and eventual “plating” on the other metal (copper) might be viewed as indicating the product and reactant are the same (thus no chemical reaction). Teachers should ask students to provide evidence that a chemical reaction actually occurred. If needed, they could be prompted to answer why a transfer of copper would be evidence of a chemical reaction. As an extension, having students compare the properties of copper to other metals could support a context for why they’d want to copperplate something.

MS-ETS1-3 Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson plan has students develop two different methods, or choose from strategies provided, for copper deposition (“copperplating”) on another metal and then evaluate how well each worked. Students present their methods of copperplating to the class and then consider how to revise their own methods based on the ideas from other groups in the class. Teachers should also ask students to use the results from their group and others, not just the planned methods, to determine a final, best method for copperplating based on evidence. Beyond a class discussion, students’ worksheets should include questions explicitly asking them to compare the two methods their group used, and to compare their methods to those of other groups, based on evidence and results. Additionally, criteria for success will have to be discussed – what does high-quality copperplating look like? This step would ideally be done after initial results, so students can help develop these criteria. There should also be more space provided for this type of student reasoning on the worksheets.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are asked to develop a procedure for copperplating the other metal materials. They are given a set of materials to guide/structure their solution path. Before being given materials, students could be asked to use their scientific understanding of copperplating and chemical reactions to brainstorm possible materials and chemicals that could work for this process. As the lesson is structured, the variables the students get to manipulate include: 1) the quantities of provided substances used to create the chemical solution, 2) duration materials sit in the solution, and 3) the metal item or items to be plated. To provide more advanced learning, students might be given more options for materials and procedures for their testing (such as sanding metals first or not), or they might do additional research on what materials/solutions would be good to test in the first place. Because students hear the investigation plan of other teams they might change their ideas for reasons having more to do with perceived intelligence or popularity of other students, rather than sound scientific reasoning. This class sharing could be done after initial results in order to inform a final process to investigate and test based on initial evidence. Teachers could also require students (and/or support students) in linking methods to scientific principles and reasoning for determining their process.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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
In this lesson, students present proposed plating methods and come up with a method to test based on those conversations with peers, implicitly suggesting that students will combine the best ideas into a better idea. Students then describe the effectiveness of that method after testing it. From the beginning students should explicitly be evaluating their design solutions based on scientific principles argued by their peers and/or evidence from tests that they and peers have conducted. The initial decision making process and class discussion needs to be more explicitly conducted in a context of argument based on evidence. In order to fully get at this core idea, they should evaluate the quality of their plating method and others’ methods based on criteria for success and then go through another iteration of the design cycle to refine and optimize their solution.

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In this activity students will be observing the deposition/plating of copper on another metal object. While not explicit in the lesson itself, students should become familiar with some properties of metals and principles of electroplating/plating through the background resources of this lesson, and through their observations and tests. For example, as part of the scientific background of this engineering activity, the class should discuss the physical and chemical properties of copper that would make an engineer want to plate something with it. Also, they should discuss the chemical reaction of a metal with an acid, a common chemical property that could be highlighted, particularly due to its importance in industrial processes.

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 begin to understand why engineers would want to copperplate another material as they realize that properties of copper are better suited to certain tasks (like conducting electricity or reducing erosion) than the underlying material. Thus, they see how copper can be shaped and used for particular functions to take advantage of its unique properties.

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
As they observe and record patterns in their results, and discuss others’ results, they should use that evidence to help in defining a cause and effect relationship. They will be able to determine which variables caused the desired outcomes by looking at these patterns, though this process will have to be more explicitly supported than is described in the lesson.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson builds students' understanding of properties of materials and physical and chemical changes, while also extending that into exploring the engineering within the concept of metallic plating. All three dimensions of the NGSS connect within this lesson, although the DCIs, practices and CCCs can sometimes use more explicit guidance than provided in the lesson.

  • Instructional Supports: The background information is excellent. It provides significant details on the engineering of metallic plating and the science behind this process, including descriptions of why this process is actually done in industry. Students will be able to see why the science understanding is important to an engineering application of that science. Student handouts are adequate, but could be improved to better allow students to show their understanding and to use evidence in their explanations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: No specific assessments are provided. Student handouts could better allow for teacher assessment of the three dimensions of the NGSS. For example, they could ask students to use evidence in their explanations.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The lesson is not based on technological interactivity.