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Heat & Energy Activities for 4th Grade

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Heat and energy can be complex ideas for young minds. The following lesson contains a few activity ideas to get 4th grade students thinking about heat and energy in more dynamic, active ways.

Heat and Energy Activities

Heat and energy are both concepts that can be difficult to learn through theory alone as young students often struggle with science concepts that cannot be seen. Luckily, heat and energy are both observable through other means! The following activities are designed to get your 4th grade students working with heat and energy in ways that will challenge their preconceived notions while laying the foundation for a deeper understanding of both concepts. Be sure to modify each activity appropriately for the students in your classroom.

S'mores!

Note: With this activity it is important to consider student allergies. Please use your best judgment - if any of your students suffer from food allergies, then it may be better to avoid this activity.

As an early introduction to the concept of heat and energy, as well as a great way to get students interested in the topic, have students make s'mores around a heat source. Provide s'mores ingredients and a safe way to toast the marshmallows, such as a well-supervised flame or a gas burner of some sort.

As students are making their s'mores, talk about the different ways in which heat is transferred (conduction, convection and radiation). Ask students what type of heat transfer(s) they think is occurring that is causing their marshmallows to melt. After all students have enjoyed their s'mores, have each student draw examples showing each type of heat transfer.

  • Materials: Marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars, heat source, long sticks to roast marshmallows; paper and pencil

Conductors and Insulators Activity

This is a great activity to introduce students to the concept of heat conduction as well as to materials that act as conductors and insulators. All you'll need for this activity is a variety of common objects and a way to provide student groups with hot water. You can throw in thermometers if you want students to be more precise, but simply feeling for heat transfer will work just fine.

Start the activity by writing the terms 'conductor' and 'insulator' on the board. Ask students what they think they mean. Discuss the following questions:

  • What makes a good conductor? Insulator?
  • What materials are good conductors? Insulators?

For each group, fill a shallow dish with hot water and tell students to place solid objects directly in the water and objects that absorb water (like cloth) against the side of the container. Then, after a few minutes, ask them to touch the objects. What do they observe? This is a great place to start a conversation about heat and the way it can move through objects. At the end of the activity, have student groups make lists of what they believe would make good conductors and insulators of heat. Discuss these lists and let students defend their ideas.

  • Materials: Hot water; common objects (e.g., metal utensils, wooden sticks, strips of cloth, etc.); thermometers (optional)

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