Winter is a perfect time to teach lessons about heating and cooling. Even if your students are just learning basic scientific concepts, heating and cooling lessons are a fun way to make science engaging. Try this lesson activity to teach students about Arctic and Antarctic wildlife and and entropy.
- Teach studens basic concepts of heating and cooling by thinking about how energy is transferred from one object to another. Look at photos of animals in cold conditions, such as a polar bear in the Arctic, penguins in the Antarctic, and whales in frozen water. Ask students how these different animals stay warm. Polar bears have hollow fur that insulates them with air. Penguins create a warm layer with downy feathers and thick feathers. Whales (and most animals living in cold climates) have a thick layer of fat called blubber. All these strategies help them keep warmth around their bodies the way a jacket helps students keep a layer of warm air around their bodies.
- Have students look up the average temperatures for different areas where these three animals live and determine the coldest temperatures each animal might experience.
- Ask students which technique they think is the most effective—hollow fur, layers of feathers, or a layer of fat?
- Next, talk about what humans do to keep warm in cold temperatures and ask students for examples of what humans do. Some human techniques for staying warm are using clothing, using a heat source, or creating a wind-breaking structure.
- Tell students that they are going to travel to the Antarctic and need to prepare for the cold temperatures. Divide the class into teams and tell your students the object of the experiment is to keep one team member’s hand warm in a bucket of ice water. Set out supplies for teams to use, including bubble wrap (to represent hollow fur); feathers; shortening (for whale fat); fabrics like cotton, wool, and fleece; and plastic bags. Tell students that they need to keep the team member’s hand dry and at 50 degrees after two minutes of submersion in the ice water. They can use any and all the materials to create an insulating device for their team.
- Students will prepare their insulating contraptions and prepare the team member’s hand for the test. When all teams are ready, place a thermometer in the contraption with the team member’s hand.
- Place the team member’s hand in a bucket of ice water for two minutes and watch the thermometer. After two minutes, check the thermometer and write down the temperature on the board of each team. The team with the highest temperature wins.
- Have the winning team explain how they built their insulation and why they think it worked best.
Students will learn in this activity that different combinations of trapped air, fat, and fabrics work better than others and that insulation prevents the transfer of heat from the team member’s hand to the cold water. They’ll also get a good chance to practice problem solving and experimental design.