Measurement: Temperature

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SWBAT measure the temperature of matter using metric units and a thermometer.

Big Idea

Hot and cold are two everyday concepts that affect our daily lives. Students find out what it means to really measure temperature.


20 minutes

"Why is it so hot in here?" is an everyday question in my non-air conditioned classroom with its wall of windows. When students are asked, "What do you mean by hot?", they often say, "You know, hot."  Understanding what temperature is actually measuring - making sense of what hot or cold really means at the particle level is the goal of this lesson. Certainly students learn how to use thermometers, but better yet, they work toward understanding what those measurements actually mean.

While measuring temperature is not a specific performance indicator within the NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), it is fundamental to several performance indicators within the framework. For example, an understanding of temperature is a stepping stone toward accessing all of the MS-PS1 Matter and its Interactions performance indicators. For example, MS-PS1-4 asks students to: Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed. This indicator is really telling us that students need to understand temperature as a measurement of thermal energy. For more on identifying learning objectives that are necessary for accessing NGSS DCIs, read this section's reflection: Unpacking the Standards - Finding the Little Learning Objectives That Make a Big Difference.

Additionally, as students learn about temperature, they access important Crosscutting Concepts related to energy (energy may take different forms and the transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system) and measurement (standard units are used to measure and describe physical quantities). These concepts come to play throughout all of the lessons related to this one. These lessons can be used separately, but the sequence of these related lessons occurs as is follows:

1) Measurement: Temperature (this lesson)

2) States of Matter Simulation Investigation

3) States of Matter Goop Investigation

4) Hot and Cold Investigation

5) Particle Play: Be the Particle Activity

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, explore this site with students:

Math is Fun Interactive Thermometer

While students prepare to observe the interactive thermometer in different scenarios like: "A Hot Day" or "Hot Coffee" at different temperatures, have students close their eyes and ask them what temperature they think matches the scenario in Fahrenheit and Celsius. Students open their eyes to see how close their predictions were. Over the course of several trials, student predictions should become more accurate in both the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales.

Once students' accuracy improves, continue on to this site:

States of Matter Interactive Demonstration

Pose the question:

So, when a substance is hot, what are you really measuring?

Show them the online demonstration pointing out the thermometer. Ask students to observe the thermometer as the state of matter changes. Then ask students to observe how the particles change at different temperatures. Have students complete the following Cloze statements:

When the temperature is ___________________, the particles move _______________________.

When the temperature is ___________________, the particles move _______________________.

Students should recognize that when the temperature is high, particles move faster and when the temperature is low, the particles move slower.

Teacher Note:

As noted, there are many misconceptions about temperature. I've found if I can move students toward the idea that "hot and cold" are simply opposite ends of the thermal energy continuum - and that we are more interested in describing the temperature in terms of particle motion -  students catch on to the other, more complicated, concepts like heat more readily. This basic concept of particles in motion will set students up for further exploration of temperature, heat and eventually, the particulate model of matter, states of matter and changes of state.


30 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore the concept of mass, students use a variety of resources in small groups to complete various activities on the Measurement: Temperature Student Handout. Students often have a fair amount of prior knowledge regarding measuring temperature. It students need additional resources to complete the activities, direct them to:

1) Science Textbook

2) Cool Cosmos: Measuring Temperature

3) Boundless Temperature

4) Physics 4 Kids

5) Global Weather Center

6) How to Read a Thermometer Tutorial Video

7) Fahrenheit and Celsius Background Information

While students EXPLORE, they will may need support accessing the resources and clarifying their understanding. During this time, rotate through groups to ask students probing questions about the concept. The questions may range in Bloom's Revised Taxonomy complexity from "remember" type questions such as: "What is the tool called we use to measure temperature?" to "create" questions such as: "If you wanted to teach a student how to use a thermometer, what would you need to include in your teaching notes?"


20 minutes

The EXPLAIN stage provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means. During this stage of the lesson, we review the Measurement Temperature Student Handout together. I model for students how to neatly complete the activity and we briefly discuss each topic as we review: Measurement Temperature Student Work. This stage of the lesson presents a great place for a quick formative assessment because students are able to explain their answers and ask questions about parts of the activity they don't yet understand.

If time allows, a strategy to help students explain is to provide them the opportunity to use thermometers to practice measuring samples of different temperatures with a partner. The partner acts as "teacher" to check each others work and ask questions from a series of prompts like these:

"What are you measuring when you use a thermometer?"

"What are the particles like when the temperature is high?"

"Are particles closer together or farther apart in cold matter?"

"In what type of temperature are particles moving fastest?"

"What happens to particle speed/energy as temperature decreases?"

"Why are there multiple scales for measuring temperature?"

"What is the scale of this thermometer?"

"When the temperature of a substance is 20 degrees C, what will the Fahrenheit temperature be?"

These prompts can be printed on slips with example answers on the back, so that students can self-assess their understanding. Student pairs change roles. During this time, rotate to each partnership to have students demonstrate their use of the thermometer and explain what it is they are measuring.


The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. The novel situation in this case is found in the Measurement Temperature Extension. This extension introduces students to temperature conversions between Fahrenheit and Celsius. For a tutorial to help students learn how to convert these units, try: Khan Academy Comparing Celsius and Fahrenheit Scales. Additional extension opportunities include:

1) Review the concepts by making flashcards, quizzing or reading additional sections from the textbook.

2) Help another student who needs additional support. (See: Mastery Learning in Science: Students as Teachers).

3) Explore some of these interactive simulations: PhET Heat and Thermo Sims.

4) Explore the Kelvin scale and Absolute 0: PBS Sense of Scale - Absolute Zero


20 minutes

The EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. The primary way I evaluate student learning is by giving students an assessment that focuses on the "remember" and "understand" levels of understanding (Bloom's Revised Taxonomy): Measurement: Temperature Check Out Quiz. For a student example: Temperature Check Out Quiz Student Work.

After students show that they have a basic conceptual understanding and can correctly read thermometers, providing students with an opportunity to practice and prove competence in an investigation is an important evaluation method. This additional evaluation gives insight into whether students can "apply" their level of understanding. This is an investigation that works in conjunction with measuring temperature: Hot and Cold Labs.