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My Angle on Cooling: Effects of Distance and Inclination

AAAS Science NetLinks, Science NetLinks, AAAS

In this hands-on lesson, students measure the effect of distance and inclination on the amount of heat felt by an object and apply this experiment to building an understanding of seasonality. In Part 1, the students set up two thermometers at different distances from a light bulb and record their temperatures to determine how distance from a heat source affects temperature. In Part 2, students construct a device designed to measure the temperature as a function of viewing angle toward the Sun by placing a thermometer inside a black construction paper sleeve, and placing the device at different angles toward the Sun. They then explain how distance and inclination affect heat and identify situations where these concepts apply, such as the seasons on Earth and the NASA Mercury MESSENGER mission.

Activity takes about one to two 45-minute class periods. This activity requires additional materials.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Axial tilt of Earth governs incoming sunlight and seasonality
About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1c
Sunlight warms the planet
About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1a

Energy Literacy

The energy of a system or object that results in its temperature is called thermal energy.
Other materials addressing:
1.2 Thermal energy.
Sunlight, gravitational potential, decay of radioactive isotopes, and rotation of the Earth are the major sources of energy driving physical processes on Earth.
Other materials addressing:
2.2 Sources of energy on Earth.
Earth's weather and climate is mostly driven by energy from the Sun.
Other materials addressing:
2.3 Earth's climate driven by the Sun.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
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C) Energy.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Remember that students often do not use measuring instruments without prompting.

About the Science

  • Activity takes two simple types of measurements and shows how they are important to both Earth's seasons and to the technical challenges for the Messenger mission to Mercury.
  • While the experiments themselves are quite simple and well described, the extrapolations to Earth's seasons and the Mercury MESSENGER mission may prove a rewarding challenge to both educators and students.
  • Since the Messenger spacecraft began orbiting Mercury in March 2011, this lesson could be related quite nicely to coverage of that event.

About the Pedagogy

  • Thorough content piece for educators.
  • A group investigation that allows for a differentiation of student roles - Time Keeper, Temperature Monitor, and Recorder.
  • Some important mechanical skills are needed to understand and set up the apparatus and consider the design challenges for the Mercury MESSENGER mission.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Complete, ready-to-use, clearly presented activity.
  • Most of the materials are basic, although not always available in a typical classroom. Assembling the materials and set up for all teams might consume some time.
  • Educators have to download a number of materials like worksheets, etc.

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