Students test whether the color of a material affects how much heat it absorbs. They leave ice cubes placed in boxes made of colored paper (one box per color; white, yellow, red and black) in the sun, and predict in which colored box ice cubes melt first. They record the order and time required for the ice cubes to melt.
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- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 2. Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has "more of"/"less of" the attribute, and describe the difference. For example, directly compare the heights of two children and describe one child as taller/shorter. (Grade 0)  ...show
- 4. Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another. (Grade 1)  ...show
- 10. Draw a picture graph and a bar graph (with single-unit scale) to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare problems using information presented in a bar graph. (Grade 2)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- D. Different materials are used in making things. (Grades 0 - 2)  ...show
- A. Asking questions and making observations helps a person to figure out how things work. (Grades 0 - 2)  ...show
- A. Energy comes in many forms. (Grades 0 - 2)  ...show
- C. Compare, contrast, and classify collected information in order to identify patterns. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Massachusetts: Science
- 4. Recognize that the sun supplies heat and light to the earth and is necessary for life. (Grades 0 - -1)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool. (Grades 0 - 2)  ...show
- Certain colors absorb light better than others.
- The sun produces heat and light.
- Why ice cubes melt.
- (optional) The purpose of solar panels.
- colored paper 4 sheets per group (white, yellow, red, black)
- scissors (one per student if you want the them to cut out the boxes [cube templates] from the colored paper)
- clear tape, to make the cube boxes from colored paper
- 4 ice cubes per group
- sunny day or a heat lamp
- Activity Worksheet, one per group
|To take in; to transform (radiant energy) into a different form usually with a resulting rise in temperature.|
|The capacity for doing work; raising weight, for example.|
|A form of energy that causes substances to rise in temperature or to go through associated phase changes (as melting, evaporation, or expansion).|
|Energy (as heat waves, light waves, radio waves, x-rays) transmitted in the form of electromagnetic waves.|
|To bounce waves of light, sound, or heat off a surface.|
|A photo-electric cell that converts sunlight directly into electrical energy and can be used as a power source.|
|Energy derived from sunlight.|
|A group of solar cells forming a flat surface (as on a spacecraft).|
Before the Activity
- Make enough ice cubes so that each group can have four. Try to make them the same size for experiment consistency.
- To save time, pre-cut and assemble (using tape) the colored paper into five-sided boxes each big enough to fit an ice cube. Otherwise, have students cut, fold and tape together their own boxes. See the Additional Multimedia Support section for Internet resources on how to make a cube from a piece of paper.
- Gather the rest of the materials.
- Make copies of the Activity Worksheet, one per group.
With the Students
- With the class, talk through the Introduction/Motivation section.
- Once the class is thinking about the influence of color and its relationship to heat, divide the class into small groups.
- Give each group four sheets of colored paper (white, yellow, red, black) and have them cut and fold their sheets into boxes.
- Hand out newspaper and have each group spread the newspaper in an exposed, sunny place outside, or under a heat lamp.
- On the newspaper, place the boxes side by side with the opening facing away from the sun/light so students can see inside.
- Give each group four ice cubes and instruct them to place one ice cube in the center of each colored box.
- Let the ice cubes sit in the sun until they have melted. Have students check them every few minutes and record which ice cubes melted first, second, third, and fourth.
- Direct groups to record their data in the worksheet chart.
- Have students create a bar graph representing the time it took the ice to melt for each color of paper.
- Discuss with the class their observations, touching on the different colors and their ability to reflect light and heat. Also, talk about how these color characteristics help to melt the ice.
- Ask students the Investigating Questions. Discuss some real-world examples in which engineers use their understanding of how different colors reflect light and heat to design products and find solutions. (Example: Asphalt roads and tar roofs are dark surfaces that absorb heat from the sun. Measurements show that white roofs reflect some of the sun's heat back into space and cool temperatures, much as wearing a white shirt on a sunny day can be cooler than wearing a dark shirt. So, designing white roofing materials or paint for roofs has the effect of cooling temperatures within buildings.)
- Why do ice cubes melt?
- How does the sun affect ice?
- What kind of clothes do people wear outside in the winter? In summer?
- On which color did the first ice cube completely melt? Why?
- If an ice cube was placed on a blue piece of paper, how much time do you think it would take to completely melt?
- Which color absorbs heat the quickest in the sun?
- Which color would be the best to help keep ice cubes from melting too quickly in the sun?
Additional Multimedia Support
Cool Roof Resources for Federal Agencies. Federal Energy Management Guide, U.S. Department of Energy. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/features/cool_roof_resources.html
Do Different Colors Absorb Heat Better? Grades PreK-2. Education Resources Information Center. Office for Technology and Industry Collaboration, Tufts University and Department of Education. (alternate online location for activity) http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED480661&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED480661
Richards, Roy. An Early Start to Technology from Science. London, UK: Simon & Schuster, 1990, page 64.
White Roofs May Successfully Cool Cities: Computer Model Simulates Impact of White Roofs on Urban Areas. Posted January 28, 2010. Press release 10-016, National Science Foundation News. http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=116283
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University
Last modified: February 8, 2016