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Measuring Temperature Activities

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.

Looking for ways to engage your students in learning the skills necessary to accurately measure temperature? This lesson contains several ideas for activities that will help student hone this skill in meaningful ways.

Measuring Temperature Precisely: A Skill, Not a Tool

Many students in today's classrooms scoff at the idea that measuring temperature is a skill that they must learn. With digital thermometers and immediate access to the current weather highly accessible to them at all hours of the day, they may find it difficult to believe that the skill of measuring temperature precisely is important to them. The activities that follow are designed to help students see that temperature fluctuates greatly in some situations and that accurate temperature measurements are difficult to take at times. At any rate, students will be engaged in the act of measuring temperature and will come away from the lesson with a newfound respect for the skill.

Measuring Temperature Over Time

A great introductory activity to measuring temperature is to have students either heat up a beaker of water or cool one down, measuring temperature throughout the process. If you decide to have students heat water up, make sure they have access to a constant heat source (e.g. a hot plate). If you are having them cool water down, give them plenty of ice to work with. In either situation, have them take a temperature reading every 30 or 60 seconds. Then, have them graph the temperature change over time and discuss the patterns they see. This will help students understand the rate at which water heats up or cools down, and may lead them to think about real-world applications of this phenomenon.

Hottest or Coolest Location Contest

To add an element of competition to your lesson, have students take a look around the classroom from where they are seated. Tell them they will pick two locations in the room; one location is where they think the highest temperature reading will be taken and the other is where they think the lowest temperature reading will be taken. Then, have students submit their guesses and write them on the board along with their names. Have each student select a location from the board to measure and report. Be sure to circulate around the room as they do this to help students hone their measuring skills (and to ensure they are being honest!). Once students have finished reporting the temperature of each location, declare the winners and discuss the results.

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