Lesson 3A: Investigating Heat Transfer


Estimated Time: One to two forty-five minute class periods

Indicator(s) Core learning Goal 1:

1.1.1 The student will recognize that real problems have more than one solution.

1.4.8 The student will use models and computer simulations to extend understanding.

Indicator(s): Core Learning Goal 2:

2.3.1 The student will describe heat transfer systems affecting atmosphere, land, and oceans.

Student Instructional Outcome(s):

  1. The student will be able to describe the role of molecules in transferring energy by identifying the roles molecules play in energy transfer.
  2. The student will be able to relate radiation, convection, and conduction in the Earth system by completing systems diagrams of energy transfer.

Brief Description:

In this lesson students work in small groups to research and define conduction, convection and radiation. They will demonstrate the concepts and the role molecules play in transferring the energy by using Ping-Pong balls or packing peanuts. Each group will briefly present their ideas to the class. After the presentations the students will divide back into small groups and brainstorm several examples of each method of energy transfer. Examples should focus on large-scale concepts found in the natural Earth/ Earth-Space system. A class discussion and completion of a systems diagram or concept map will follow the small group brainstorms.

Background knowledge / teacher notes:

Radiation is the transfer of energy without molecules. It takes place in the form of electromagnetic waves (radio waves, light, microwaves, ultraviolet energy, gamma rays etc.) Conduction is the transfer of energy through the direct contact of molecules. Each molecule passes the energy to the next molecule. Convection transfers energy through density currents. Molecules move in a current and take their energy with them. Many sources will define convection as currents in fluids. If students uncover this definition, be sure to point out that there is a great deal of convection in the atmosphere and when using the fluid definition of convection one must assume that the atmosphere behaves in a fluid-like manner.


In the follow-up discussion point out that the flame of the burner radiates heat, that the heat is transferred to the beaker then to the water by conduction, and that convection circulate heat throughout the water and into the atmosphere.

Student demonstrations will vary but they all should include energy transfer and the role molecules play in each method.

The functioning of our planet relies on a constant input of energy from the sun. Energy leaves the Earth in the form of heat flowing to outer space. From a systems point of view, Earth is an open system with respect to energy.

Examples of heat transfer may include but a certainly not limited to:

It is important for students understand that these three methods are what transfer the energy that drives the entire Earth system. Four period day = (1) 84 minute period.

Lesson Description:


Conduct a short demonstration to exemplify radiation, conduction and convection. A simple one would be to boil a small beaker of water set several inches over a Bunsen burner. Have students draw the examples in their journal.


Using textbook or other classroom resources have each group define "conduction", "convection", and "radiation" (DOL2).

Have students design demonstrations using Ping-Pong balls or other small manipulatives (packing peanuts) to make a representative diagram of each, and prepare a brief class presentation (not to exceed 5 minutes total) of their demonstrations (DOL4).

Accommodation: The special educator could teach a small group to create the system diagram and description. Group participants could develop the diagram together with guidance from the teacher and use Language Experience Approach (see Resources) to write the description

Education Element:


Definition and examples of how heat is transferred



SEES figure 1.01 Components of the surface heat budget.




Select groups at random to make their presentation to the class with an accompanying transparency or white-board/chalk board diagrams.

Class discussion will clarify and summarize learning goals (DOL3).


Students should be able to come up with real life examples of each form of energy transfer and record these examples in their earth science journals.

Journal Write: Ask student to choose one of their examples and create a systems diagram or a concept map to show the energy flow the atmosphere. Write a description to accompany the system diagram or concept map.

Accommodation: Some students could choose to write about one or two of the three demonstrations.

Education Elements:


SEES text, Chapter 1, Section 3, SST Part 1: Global Sea Surface Temperature Distribution and Satellite Sea Surface Temperature Observations. Movement of Water by Ocean Currents.




Discuss real life examples of radiation, convection, and conduction.

Journal Write: summarize the role of molecules in transferring energy in each of the three demonstrations (radiation, conduction, and convection) and provide real life examples of each form.



Textbooks or other classroom resources

Ping-Pong balls (film canisters, corks, Styrofoam peanuts, or any lightweight manipulative)

Blank overhead transparencies or white boards/chalkboards


A primer of energy information

Chapter 5 Working with Energy. Available: