Physics Calorimetry Lab

Mr. Liang/San Ramon Valley High School
Type Category
Assessment Materials
Experiment/Lab 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 resource presents the students with three small activities which are all disguised as challenges. The first activity, "Deactivating the Bomb," requires the students to determine how much hot water to add to a beaker of cool water so that the final temperature rises to 37 degrees Celsius. For every degree that the students miss the final temperature by, they lose a point. The second activity, "How Hot is that Piece of Metal?," challenges the students to devise a method to determine the temperature of a piece of metal without touching it with a thermometer. The third activity, "What's the Specific Heat of my Magical Special Nails?," asks the students to determine the specific heat of a nail. What makes the three activities so great is that they all get to the very core of the Performance Expectation by requiring the students to plan and carry out their own investigations.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 12
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-PS3-4 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that the transfer of thermal energy when two components of different temperature are combined within a closed system results in a more uniform energy distribution among the components in the system (second law of thermodynamics).

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on analyzing data from student investigations and using mathematical thinking to describe the energy changes both quantitatively and conceptually. Examples of investigations could include mixing liquids at different initial temperatures or adding objects at different temperatures to water.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to investigations based on materials and tools provided to students.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The instructor needs to explicitly state that the students need to use mathematical thinking to determine how to achieve the desired results.

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
To fully support the Practice, the activity would need to engage the students in model building or at least the revising of models. The instructor could ask the students to create a model that explains the process that occurs in activity one when two liquids of different temperatures are mixed and they then come to an equilibrium temperature.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
While this activity fully addresses the Disciplinary Core Idea, the instructor should emphasize the idea of objects hotter than their surrounding environment cooling off by holding a class discussion before, during, or after the lab. The instructor could have the students trace the flow of energy by requiring them in their lab report to state which objects cold off and which ones warmed up.

Crosscutting Concepts

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
This activity does a good job of addressing the CCC. It could do a better job if the instructor modifies the activity to include a component that would demonstrate energy moving from one place to another through fields. Perhaps the instructor could accomplish this by having the students drop a mass from a height onto a metal plate. Through the gravitational field, the falling mass would transfer energy from a certain height to the plate situated on the ground. The students could measure the height they drop the mass from and therefore know how much gravitational potential energy it contained. By measuring the corresponding rise in temperature of the metal plate, the students could equate the two energies.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Because this lab activity requires students to plan and conduct their own investigations and therefore fully addresses the PE, because it fully addresses the DCI, because it nearly fully addresses the Practice, and because it nearly fully addresses the CCC, it is a superior resource.

  • Instructional Supports: The activity is very weak in terms of instructional support because it does not supply background information about the topics other than to list the equation used to calculate heat content from the mass, specific heat, and the change in temperature. This activity could only be used after the students had been instructed about the concepts of heat and specific heat.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lab exercise contains three small activities, and the first activity (Deactivating the Bomb) provides the best situation for monitoring student progress because the students need to call the instructor over and perform their test in front of the teacher for immediate grading and feedback. The other two activities also provide for student monitoring, but mainly after the lab has been completed and turned in because it is only at that point that the instructor will be able to read the lab reports.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Modern technological data collection tools are not used in this activity. The technological interactivity rating could increase if an instructor simply gave the students access to probeware.