Explaining Scientific Phenomena in FLIR Camera Videos

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SWBAT: Analyze and explain various scientific phenomena represented in FLIR camera videos to build a deeper conceptual understanding of matter and energy

Big Idea

Matter and energy encounters are everywhere but they cannot be seen. As such, students lack a deep conceptual understanding and awareness of the energy transfers happening all around them!

Overview of Standards

This lesson highlights the beginning of student investigations of heat transfer and how it related to constructing space shuttles.  In the process of performing this lesson and other that follow, students will develop understanding of MS-PS3-4 and MS-PS3-5.  In the process of gathering observation, students will construct explanations and models that are supported with quantitative and qualitative evidence collected from investigations and research.  Students will use cause and effect and matter and energy as the 2 main Crosscutting Concepts to establish understanding and make connections over the course of their studies.


5 minutes

To hook kids attention for the lesson, I begin by showing an infrared image and a regular image of a space shuttle after reentry. I ask students to observe the images and make predictions about what they think could explain the images. This video summarizes the use of these images to help support the implementation of the lesson.

Common responses: The infrared image shows that the bottom of the space shuttle is warmer than all other regions. The bottom of a space shuttle is black, while the rest is white.  

I wanted students to think about why there might be tiles on the belly of the space shuttle and how this related to the infrared image.

Analyzing FLIR Infrared Videos to Explain Scientific Phenomena

25 minutes

Now that students are thinking about an example of how infrared cameras can be used to explain phenomena, I want to give them an opportunity to pick a video and then think of possible explanations and models that could explain what happens.

First, students pick a video from the Concord Consortium's Infrared Tube website. They then predict what will happen in the FLIR video.

Students then watch the video several times and record observations. A nice aspect of the videos is that unpredictable results often occur, driving questioning and inquiry.

Now I ask students to tie in their knowledge of forms of energy to determine where the heat comes come--what type of transfer had to occur, etc.  

Students model what is happening to the particulates in the different types of matter and how they know. I want students to be able to represent their understanding of molecular motions when explaining each aspect of their observations. This will help tie in Crosscutting Concepts, like cause and effect, patterns, systems, etc.

Students create models that represent their understanding of molecular motion and energy

20 minutes

Students create their models to explain what is happening to molecules at various parts of the system. This is the infrared video that one group used to study heat transfer:


The video below helps you become familiar with the Concord Consortium resources so you can effectively administer this lesson and support you students.


Once students complete watching the video and discussing their findings, they turn their observations into a conceptual model.

Student Observations

Student model

It was amazing to see students relate what they had learned in prior units and apply them to this model. They made many connections to matter and energy and deepened their conceptual understanding of how the two are so closely linked. 


Making Connections to Do Now--why are there black panels on the bottom of shuttles?

15 minutes

Now that students have experienced an infrared experiment, I have them revisit their questions and predictions from the do now. I ask them to model and explain why they think the shuttle has panels on the bottom and what the colors from the infrared image mean.  

Here is a sample of a student's response.

As in anything that our students study in school, we need to allow time for these ideas to develop. I certainly don't expect students to thoroughly explain the specific details of this phenomenon. I would definitely suggest giving students more time in class to research this topic, investigate with different materials to develop an understanding of heat transfer, and ultimately, develop a device that slows or prevents heat transfer (Standard MS-PS3-4).