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Thermal Conductivity 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.

Teaching students about thermal conductivity? This lesson provides activities that will help students explore the topic from the safety of the classroom. They will finally understand why it is unwise to stir boiling soup with a metal spoon. Ouch!

Thermal Conductivity: Endless Real-World Applications

Students sometimes have trouble relating to topics in physics that do not have very many readily available real-world applications. This is certainly not the case with thermal conductivity. Indeed, thermal conductivity (and the lack thereof) can be found all around us. The activities that follow capitalize on this fact by having students explore thermal conductivity with inquiries that contain applications they will likely encounter elsewhere in their lives. This is one unit that is not hard to get students interested in. After all, it might help students avoid some pain in the future as they reach for a wooden spoon instead of a metal one the next time they cook!

Thermal Conductivity in the Kitchen Activity

There is nothing quite as real-world as cooking. The activity is sometimes glamorous, sometimes messy, but always necessary for a healthy life. In this activity, students will test a variety of common kitchen utensils for thermal conductivity and categorize them according to the best application for each. If you have a number of kitchen utensils (spatulas, spoons, etc.), great. If not, have students bring in one random utensil each. Set up a number of large beakers filled with water on hot plates around the room and bring them to a boil. Then, have students place each utensil in the boiling water for 5 minutes. After the 5 minute mark, have them take a temperature reading of the utensil. They can then report the utensil's temperature on the board, as well as the material it is made of. After students have reported on each utensil, hold a conversation in which students group utensils by their best application (e.g. metal spoons for cool applications, wooden spoons for boiling water, etc.). They will be able to use what they learned in this activity for the rest of their lives!

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