Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science
Heat and Temperature Children’s Ideas About Heat and Temperature
Children’s Ideas About Heat and Temperature
Below are common ideas children in grades K-6 have about this topic, compiled from research on children’s ideas about science. Consider what evidence might refute this idea, and why a child would be likely to believe this? Once you’ve entered all your answers you can click “printable page” at the bottom of this form to print your answers. You can also click “see possible response” for any question to see one possible response from the series content advisors.
1. Heat is a substance that flows in and out of objects.
Interestingly, research on children’s thinking shows that many children have the same “caloric” view of heat that many eighteenth-century scientists (like Lavoisier) had. In the Science Studio, Lydia rethought her idea that heat is matter when she was asked if it had weight and took up space. As stated in the video, heat is the transfer of energy between different temperatures of matter.
2. Cold, like heat, is a property of some substances.
Researchers have also shown that children sometimes think of cold as a property of a certain substance, perhaps because certain materials, including metals, always feel cold to the touch, even at room temperature. Simply put, cold is the feeling that we get when heat is transferred away from our skin.
3. Heat and temperature are the same thing.
In elementary grades, many children have not yet fully grasped the abstract concepts of energy and particles. As we’ve said elsewhere, scientific language is more precise than everyday language, which often blurs the distinction between heat and temperature. As stated in the video, heat is simply a transfer of energy from faster-moving particles to slower-moving ones; temperature is a measure of the average motion of particles.
4. When something is hot or warm, there are more atoms in it, making it heavier.
Probably from their experiences children often have the impression that the hotter something is, the more “stuff” it has — for example, they might have observed that a room full of people generate a lot of heat. They also may think that the expansion of matter is due to the expansion of particles, rather than an increase in the size of the spaces between the particles. While adding heat to matter increases its volume, the principle of conservation of mass states that the amount of matter remains constant. Hence, as Lydia discovers in the video, when heat was added to the thermometer, the volume and density (mass/volume) of the red liquid changed, but the weight stayed the same.
5. If you add more ice to ice water, the temperature will continue to lower and, if you continue to add heat to boiling water, the temperature will continue to rise.
Children don’t often have direct experience with measuring the temperature in these two situations. No matter how much ice is added to ice water, it can’t get any colder than freezing and, when water reaches its boiling point, it turns into water vapor, leaving the remaining water at a constant temperature.
Session 1 What Is Matter?: Properties and Classification of Matter
What is matter? This question at first seems deceptively simple — matter is all around us. Yet how do we define it? What does a block of cheese have in common with the Moon? What are the characteristics of matter that set it apart from something that is definitely not matter? Matter is one of the big ideas in science. Most areas in physical science can be discussed and explained in terms of matter or energy, and matter is a subject that naturally bridges to the other sciences (chemistry, life, earth science, etc.). In this session, we’ll build a working definition of matter, learn to distinguish between its “accidental” and “essential” properties, and explore it through classification, an activity with a rich history in science.
Session 2 The Particle Nature of Matter: Solids, Liquids, and Gases
What simple idea links together all of chemistry and physics? How can a close study of the macroscopic differences among solids, liquids, and gases support a microscopic model of tiny, discrete, and constantly moving particles? In this session, participants learn how the "particle model" can be turned into a powerful tool for generating predictions about the behavior of matter under a wide range of conditions.
Session 3 Physical Changes and Conservation of Matter
What happens when sugar is dissolved in a glass of water or when a pot of water on the stove boils away? Do things ever really "disappear?" In everyday life, observations that things "disappear" or "appear" seem to contradict one of the fundamental laws of nature: matter can be neither created nor destroyed. In this session, participants learn how the principles of the particle model are consistent with conservation of matter.
Session 4 Chemical Changes and Conservation of Matter
How can the particle model account for what happens when two clear liquids are mixed together and they produce a milky-white solid? What happens when iron rusts? Where do the elements come from? In this session, participants extend the particle model by looking inside the particles, learn about some early chemical pioneers, and in the process discover how the law of conservation of matter applies even at the scale of atoms and molecules.
Session 5 Density and Pressure
What makes a block of wood rise to the surface of a bucket of water? Why do your ears pop when you swim deep underwater? In this session, participants examine density, an essential property of matter. They also look at how particles of matter are in constant motion, which leads to a deeper understanding of fluid pressure. Lastly, the concepts of pressure and density are investigated to explain the macroscopic phenomenon of rising and sinking.
Session 6 Rising and Sinking
Why does a hot air balloon rise into the sky? Why does ice rise in water, when a lump of solid wax will sink in a jar full of molten wax? In this session, participants generalize the model that has been developed about what rises and what sinks, using the idea of balance of forces.
Session 7 Heat and Temperature
What makes the liquid in a thermometer rise or fall in response to temperature? Which contains more heat — a boiling teakettle on the stove or a swimming pool of lukewarm water? In this session, participants focus on the difference between heat and temperature, and examine how both are defined in terms of particles. The particle model is then used to explain a number of everyday phenomena, from why things expand when they are heated to the role that temperature plays in changes of state.
Sessions 8 Extending the Particle Model of Matter
In this session, participants extend their understanding of the particle model to explain additional macroscopic phenomena, including the electrical properties of matter. Participants review the progression of ideas covered in the course and anticipate future developments in the understanding of matter.