One way to conserve energy in a building is to use adequate insulation. Insulation helps keep the hot or cool air inside or outside of a building. Inefficient heating and cooling of buildings is a leading residential and industrial source of wasteful energy use. In this activity, students act as engineers and determine which type of insulation would conserve the most energy.
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 Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
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.
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- Colorado: Math
- Colorado: Science
- a. Identify and describe the variety of energy sources (Grade 4)  ...show
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 3. Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step "how many more" and "how many less" problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. For example, draw a bar graph in which each square in the bar graph might represent 5 pets. (Grade 3)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- C. The use of technology affects the environment in good and bad ways. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties. (Grade 5)  ...show
After this activity, students should be able to:
- Describe how insulation works.
- Demonstrate how some materials insulate better than others.
- Relate that effective insulation helps conserve energy.
- Describe how energy engineers use insulation when designing products.
- 4 plastic water or soda bottles (~591 ml or 20 oz size)
- Hot tap water
- Thermometer (Fahrenheit scale)
- Wool sock
- Large piece of aluminum foil (enough to wrap around a bottle)
- Large piece of thick, black plastic bag (enough to wrap around a bottle)
- Stop Heat from Escaping Worksheet
|Energy conservation:||The wise and efficient use of energy resources, resulting in reduced energy usage.|
|Insulation:||A non-conductive material or substance used to prevent the transfer of heat, electricity or sound.|
|Scientific method steps:||1) Form a hypothesis, 2) Make predictions for that hypothesis, 3) Test the predictions, and 4) Reject or revise the hypothesis based on the research findings.|
Before the Activity
- Gather materials and make copies of the Stop Heat from Escaping Worksheet.
With the Students
- Divide the class into teams of two to four students each. Hand out a worksheet to each team.
- Remind the students that today we are conducting an engineering investigation. Review the steps of a scientific investigation (see the Vocabulary/Definitions section). Engineers need to understand energy conservation concepts to design more effective home energy systems.
- On the board, write the problem question that will be addressed today. (Example: Which type of insulation would keep my house warmest in the winter?)
- Show the students the four insulation materials to be tested. Ask them to hypothesize which they think is best insulating material. Have them circle their predictions on their worksheets.
- Wrap the four plastic bottles with equal amounts of each material (newspaper, wool sock, aluminum foil and plastic bag) to serve as insulators.
- Pour equal amounts of hot tap water into each bottle.
- Immediately after the hot water is poured in the bottle, measure its temperature. Record these beginning temperatures on the worksheets.
- For 15 minutes, have students make drawings of their set-up on their worksheets.
- After 15 minutes, measure and record the (ending) temperature of the water in each bottle again.
- To calculate the change in temperature for each bottle, subtract the ending temperature from the beginning temperature.
- Ask the students to determine which material was the best insulator based on their data. Which had the smallest change of temperature? What material(s) do you recommend?
- As a class, agree on a concluding statement for the experiment based on everyone's research findings. Have the students suggest ideas for potential future insulation tests they may want to conduct.
- Remind the students that glass thermometers are breakable.
Activity Embedded Assessment
- To add a math component, have students measure the water temperature every five minutes and create a graph showing temperature vs. time.
- To add a math component, have students report/plot temperature in degrees Celsius or Kelvin, instead of Fahrenheit
EERE Consumer's Guide: Your Home: Insulation and Air Sealing. Content last updated September 12, 2005. Energy Savers, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed September 18, 2006. http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11220
Energy Conservation: Yesterday and Today, Chapter 5. Renewable Energy Curriculum, TVA Kids for Teachers, Tennessee Valley Authority. Accessed September 21, 2005. http://www.tvakids.com/teachers/pdf/elementary_ch5.pdf
Sharon D. Perez-Suarez, Natalie Mach, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise Carlson
© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: July 3, 2015