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Oh, That's HOT!!

Exploring Thermal Energy and MS-PS3-3

Have you discovered Thermochromic pigment?  It was new to me.  Basically, its a VERY DUSTY pigment that can be added to a variety of substances and it will respond to heat!  When I discovered this 'stuff' I knew for certain how much my students would enjoy an opportunity to tinker and explore with it, so I created a little Experimental Design lesson that meets NGSS standard MS-PS3-3 AND is a LOT of fun!!!!

Matching the Standard to the Task

When is comes to Design Challenges, the NGSS standards are pretty specific, students are always required to "design, construct and test".  With this particular standard, it boils down to:

and for awhile I was like 😩.  But then came thermochromic pigment and a stroke of inspiration! 

Creating Thermochromic Paint

If you aren't familiar with thermochromic pigment, essentially it change color (chrom) when heat (therm) is applied. 

So it took me QUITE a few trials to get the pigment to do what I wanted.  At first I blended this pigment with yellow paint and I got a light green result that faded to yellow.  Not so bad.  It wasn't until I purchased acrylic VARNISH that I was able to get the result of a dark color fading to reveal the word HOT underneath!!  Then I knew I was on to something awesome!!  

Our Task

For this task, students will be asked to use experimental design to create and test a Thermal Energy cup sleeve that indicates when a cup of cocoa is too warm to drink!

The Process

The process is based on the NGSS experimental design procedures which are EXPERTLY described by Paul Anderson.   I've created some great printables that can serve as a scaffold to the process if you're ready to get started with experimental design process.  You can get them here:

For this project, here's what the students were asked to do:

Essentially, the students need to create a sleeve for a 12 or 16 oz cup that contains a thermochromic sensor that will indicate whether or not the contents of the cup are hot by taking advantage of thermal energy transfer.  Much of the process involves experimenting with the design and materials for the sleeve, deciding how to create a sensor to reveal whether or not the contents are hot.  Attempting to maximize thermal energy transfer buy using different materials (aluminum foil, copper pennies, etc.) to get the thermochromic paint to respond more rapidly and of course, students are encouraged to create a visually appealing sleeve...

Save your lip when you take a sip!!


The students collected data as they went through the process in order to have evidence to support their claim at the end of the task.

As the students went through the process, they really NAILED it!  They:

  • Identified the problem, constraints and criteria
  • Brainstormed possible solutions
  • Diagramed ideas
  • Created solutions
  • Tested their solutions and collected data
  • Iterated
We finalized the process by writing our results in a CER:

And of course we finalized the project with a little hot cocoa party.

This is truly one HOT project,