Central 6th grade science teacher Carlie Peck knew that the idea of infrared radiation, which cannot be seen by human eyes and is instead felt as heat, like sunlight, would be a difficult concept for students to grasp. In order to demonstrate the principles of energy, she wanted her students to investigate heat transfer with several hands-on labs using infrared thermometers and a thermal imaging camera — specialized instruments she was able to purchase with funding from the SCEF Educator Innovation Fund.
Students first investigated why some objects transfer energy better than others. They used the infrared thermometers to test the temperatures of metal and wooden cubes and then hypothesized whether ice would melt faster atop a metal cube or a plastic cube. Ms. Peck used the thermal imaging camera to show students warm spots on the metal cubes where the ice was melting, demonstrating first hand that the metal cube was better at conducting thermal energy than the plastic cube. In the second lab, student groups built solar cookers using cardboard boxes, foil, plastic wrap, and black paper and then tested them by making s’mores outside. While they watched their s’mores melt, students used the infrared thermometers to take the temperature inside their solar cookers at 10 minute intervals, charting out the temperatures as they increased. Ms. Peck used the thermal imaging camera to show students hot spots inside their cookers. As a final product, student groups “pitched” their solar cooker to the rest of the class and then voted on whose solar cooker was best. Many students highlighted in their presentations that the solar cooker was both effective and it did not use electricity, batteries or fossil fuels. Ms. Peck’s innovative labs not only gave her class a clear understanding of thermal energy transfer. Her students also developed a deeper understanding of alternative energy sources and the larger impact that could have on the world around them.