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.


With the help of simple, teacher-led demonstration activities, students learn the basic concepts of heat transfer by means of conduction, convection, and radiation. Students then apply these concepts as they work in teams to solve two problems. One problem requires that they maintain the warm temperature of one soda can filled with water at approximately body temperature, and the other problem is to cause an identical soda can of warm water to cool as much as possible during the same thirty-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 activity as engineers, using heat transfer principles to accomplish a goal.

Educational Standards

  •   Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
  •   Next Generation Science Standards: Science


  • Ask students to define and give examples of heat transfer by means of conduction, convection and radiation.
  • Ask students to describe ways people try to cause or prevent heating and cooling by conduction, convection and radiation in everyday life.
  • Ask students to 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: February 10, 2016

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