Curricular Unit: Conduction, Convection and Radiation

Contributed by: Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Photo of a dog sitting in front of a fireplace.
This dog seems to enjoy the radiation of heat produced by the fire's flames.
Copyright © NOAA


With the help of simple, teacher-led demonstration activities, students learn the basic concepts of heat transfer by means of conduction, convection and radiation. Then they apply these concepts as they work in teams to solve two lab problems: 1) maintain the warm temperature of one soda can filled with water at approximately body temperature, and 2) cause an identical soda can of warm water to cool as much as possible during the same 30-minute time interval. Students design their solutions using only common, everyday materials. They record the water temperatures in their two soda cans every five minutes, and prepare line graphs in order to visually compare their results to the temperature of an unaltered control can of water.

Engineering Connection

Engineers encounter problems of warming and cooling liquids in a number of situations. For soda, this usually involves maintaining a cold temperature, but the principles described here are the same. Students approach the problems presented in this unit's activity as engineers, using heat transfer principles to accomplish a goal.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

Suggest an alignment not listed above


To gauge student learning, ask students to:

  • Define and give examples of heat transfer by means of conduction, convection and radiation.
  • Describe everyday life examples of ways people try to cause or prevent heating and cooling by conduction, convection and radiation.
  • Give examples of materials that serve well for heating by conduction, convection and radiation, and explain why these materials are particularly well suited for the type of heat transfer involved.


Mary R. Hebrank, project writer and consultant , Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Duke University

Supporting Program

Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: November 29, 2016