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Specific Heat Project Ideas

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Specific heat is a subject taught at many grade levels, so it is important to have a variety of project ideas. This lesson provides specific heat project ideas for elementary, middle school and high schools students.

Specific Heat

Specific heat refers to the level and mass of heat required to increase the heat of an object like water by one degree. To teach your students that different substances heat up differently, it is a good idea to engage them in a range of projects that fully demonstrate how specific heat and the laws of thermodynamics work.

Projects for Elementary School Students

Specific heat projects for elementary students need to be particularly safe since these students are not always familiar with laboratory equipment and safety. For example, projects that incorporate fire may not be the best idea for young students who do not know how to safely use flame and may not have access to proper environments or equipment like science labs and Bunsen burners.

Comparing Sand, Dirt and Oil

Most kids love to get dirty, so a good specific heat project for elementary kids could involve products like sand, dirt, and garden soil. Kids can collect these products in separate cups, and then assess their heat with a thermometer by taking the temperature of each substance when first placed in the cup. Each is made up of different products which can give them a variation. This is a completely portable experiment for a science fair.

Comparing Liquids

Adding products to water can change its composition and its specific heat. You can demonstrate this effect by instructing students to fill three cups with water: one cup should contain pure water, one should contain water with added salt, and one should contain water with added oil. Instruct the students to set the cups on a windowsill where the contents will be exposed to heat all day. Ask the students to take the temperature of the water each day to see if there are differences.

What Stays the Hottest

Choose three to five substances that can be safely heated in the sun or with a microwave. Some examples include rice, dirt, water, milk. Heat each substance for the exact same amount of time. Then, instruct students to take the temperature of the substance, document it, and repeat the process every five minutes until the substances are room temperature. The documented temperatures can then be compared to see which material was hottest after being heated and which stayed hottest the longest.

Projects for Middle School Students

Project-based instruction teaches middle school students how to question, make decisions, and analyze results. At this level, specific heat projects can be more difficult and time consuming, but they should also be fun so that students are engaged and motivated to participate.

Freezing Liquids

Choose a selection of liquids, preferably water, milk, soda, and maybe rubbing alcohol. Then, ask students to hypothesize which liquids will freeze and which will not and how long it will take each to freeze solid (freeze all the way through). Place all of the liquids into a freezer. Instruct students to check the temperature of the liquids every 10 minutes or so until the liquids are frozen. Take all of the products out of the freezer and place them on a counter. Ask the students to monitor the liquids until each has returned to room temperature. Afterwards, students should graph the results of this experiment and make comparisons.

Heat Conservation

Instruct students to choose a substance that can be safely heated: water, soil, pudding, whatever they want. Then, ask them to warm the substance and figure out the best way to help the substance maintain heat after warmed. The substances should be heated in the exact same way using a microwave, pot on the stove, or even an oven. They should also be heated for the exact same time. For example, students should determine what happens to the heat of the substance if it is put in a bag verses a cup or covered with aluminum foil versus fabric. Instruct students to document what they learn throughout the experiment.

Burning Wood

This project will help students determine what specific heat different varieties of wood burn at. They can use several types of wood, preferably ones they could collect and identify, like pine, oak, and apple. Then in a safe environment like a fire pit or grill, burn and assess the heat levels using a pyrometer. This then could be notated, and they could go farther and research the wood, to see if they can pinpoint why it heats better or worse than the others.

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