Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

The Cold, Hard Truth

Flow of Heat Energy

Brittany Bowens, Allison Shannon, Jennifer Wilson | Published: August 22nd, 2023 by K20 Center

Based on The Cold, Hard Truth by K20 Center.

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Science
  • Course Course Chemistry, Physical Science, Physics
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2-3 class period(s)
  • Duration More 150 minutes


In this lesson, students observe the movement of heat energy by measuring the rise in water temperature after placing hot metal washers in the water. Students also calculate the amount of heat energy transferred between the washers and water. Lastly, students cite specific evidence to refute or agree with two claims.

Essential Question(s)

What factors affect heat energy transfer?



Students engage in a hands-on demonstration of perceived hot and cold using three pans of water of different temperatures. Students use the Magnetic Statements strategy to discuss the demonstration.


Students watch a short clip of heat transfer and make a hypothesis. Students design their own experiments to observe the transfer of heat between two types of matter, thus testing their hypotheses.


Students explain their procedures, share data, and state their conclusions.


Students create extensions of their experiments and perform the experiments again.


Students complete Two-Minute Papers in which they refute or agree with a statement, citing specific evidence from their experiments.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Three pans

  • Water

  • Heat Transfer Activity Lab Sheet (attached; one per student; optional)

  • Coffee cups w/lids

  • Thermometers

  • Scientific calculators

  • Metal washers

  • Twine/Pipe cleaners

  • Lab composition book/Graphing Paper

  • Hot plate

  • Timers or stopwatches

  • Sticky easel pad paper

  • Markers

  • Colored pencils

  • Pencils/Pens

  • Sticky notes

  • Computer with internet access


Call on a student to place a hand in the cold water and a hand in the hot water. After 30 seconds, ask the student to submerge both hands in the lukewarm water. Ask the student to share some observations with the class. Allow other students to participate in the demonstration. If possible, set up enough stations for every student (or small groups of students) to participate.

Say to students: The water in the middle is room temperature. To your hand, under normal circumstances, you may describe it as lukewarm or neither hot nor cold. What happened?

Allow the students to share their ideas.

Introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Display slide 3 to read aloud the essential question. Display slide 4 to go over the lesson objectives. Review these slides with students to the extent you feel necessary.

Go to slide 5. Ask students to think about the following two statements:

  • Statement 1: Heat energy is transferred from objects with low temperatures to objects with higher temperatures.

  • Statement 2: Heat energy is transferred from objects with high temperatures to objects with lower temperatures.

Move to slide 6, and introduce students to the Magnetic Statements strategy. Divide the room into two groups. Those who agree with statement one will stand on one side of the room while those who agree with statement two will stand on the other side. Make sure they agree with the same statement. Feel free to divide the group further for larger groups. Have students first discuss and justify their belief, and then ask the entire group to devise one statement, justifying the class’s reason for agreeing with the scenario.


Keep the previous groups together.

Display slide 7. Show the YouTube video, Red Hot Nickel Ball in Water. It is very short, so be prepared to replay it at least once.

Have the groups reevaluate their statement choice after watching the video. Give them a few minutes for discussion. Instruct the students to make a hypothesis about the transfer of heat between the metal and the water. They must understand that this hypothesis will be tested in an experiment.

Go to slide 8 and lay out all the materials on a table (washers, twine/pipe cleaners, thermometers, and coffee cups). Instruct each group to devise a procedure that will test their hypothesis. They will record their procedure in their lab notebooks.


Before the students share their data, move to slide 9 and instruct them to calculate the amount of heat energy actually transferred. The students will have the temperature difference of the water, and the mass of water will be equal to the amount of water they used.

Move to slide 10. Give each group a poster board. Instruct them to create a poster that displays their experiment. Have the class participate in the Gallery Walk strategy to view and give feedback on one another's posters.


Display slide 11. Ask students: What are ways to change this experiment so that heat transfer is shown more broadly? Then have students create their own extensions of their experiment, write a new hypothesis and procedure, and perform it again.

Upon completion of the extensions, lead a class discussion of all the factors that will affect heat transfer.


Display to slide 12 to revisit the following statements:

  • Statement 1: Heat energy is transferred from objects with low temperatures to objects with higher temperatures.

  • Statement 2: Heat energy is transferred from objects with high temperatures to objects with lower temperatures.

Pair the students. Inform students to write a Two-Minute Paper that refutes statement one, citing specific evidence from both of their experiments, or a Two-Minute Paper that supports statement two, citing specific evidence from the experiments.

Lastly move to slide 13 to post the statement: Heat transfer is not just about temperature difference. Again, the students will write another Two-Minute Paper that cites specific evidence from their extensions to support this claim.