In our grade 3 classroom, we began the month of February with a unit on thermal energy. As with most of our units, we start by gathering questions. Questions range from “How does my dog keep me warm?” to “What if we had no sun?” This inquiry process helps us know what students are curious about and where our teaching and learning can take us. As we delve further into the unit, we talk about God’s design for energy and how we use it in good and damaging ways. Students were challenged to be earth keepers of the energy God has given them. Through hands-on experiments and exploration, we discovered that there is order in God’s creation.
Later in the month the students had the opportunity to apply their understanding of thermal energy with an exciting at-home project. Each student was given the challenge of creating a thermos that would keep tea warm for a period of time. At first, many students felt daunted by this task. When I explained the project to them, I heard exclamations of, “I don’t think I can do this!” and “How will I ever create a thermos?” However, with time and thought, the students were able to successfully apply their knowledge about insulators, to successfully create their own unique thermoses. The class was instructed to use an empty soup can, a small container, and to choose their own materials for insulating the can. When the day arrived for the Thermos Challenge, the students eagerly brought their homemade projects to the classroom. The sound of excited children showing off their thermoses and praising each other’s work could be heard all around the classroom that morning.
When it was time to begin the challenge, I safely poured boiling water into each student’s soup can. Next, the students carefully secured the top of their thermos into place. After 4 hours, it was time to measure the temperature of the water in each can. Every student came to check the temperature on the thermometer that had been placed in their can. After reading the temperature, they colored in their part of the class bar graph. Finally, our class compared the final temperature of the tea in each can, to see which materials kept the tea the warmest. What an excellent learning experience it was!
At the end of all their hard work, the class enjoyed a cup of peppermint tea together, and shared their reflections on what had worked well in their projects, and what they would do better next time. Here are some of their reflections:
“Making my thermos was fun because we had to cut a mattress.”
“I did well making the thermos because I kept the water slightly warm.”
“I did well because I wrapped a lot of tin foil on the cans and the lid.”
“I would’ve used insulation but we didn’t and I would have used it because it is built to keep stuff warm.”
“Making my thermos was hard because it was very wiggly.”
“I would use different kinds of insulation, like the kind that doesn’t itch.”
“I would use real insulation because we use it to keep our house warm.”