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Thermal Expansion Model
https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/thermal-expansion-model/

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Aeronautics Space Administration

This activity allows students to demonstrate the thermal expansion of water for themselves using water bottles and straws. The discussion allows them to explore the connection between this concept and sea level rise due to climate change.

This learning activity takes 30-60 minutes

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Short Demonstration/Experiment supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 3 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • Preparing materials in advance would save instructional time and minimize safety issues.
  • Try the model first with materials on hand for an idea of how long the activity will take.
  • This activity fits well with accompanying lessons for more complete picture of sea-level rise.

About the Science

  • An important part of understanding sea-level rise is understanding thermal expansion of water.
  • Students build a model using everyday items to demonstrate that water expands when heat energy is added.
  • The background information section includes graphs of NASA satellite data for Sea Level and Global Temperatures, as well as links to these data sets. There are also links to two related activities/lessons (Graphing Sea Level Trends and What's Causing Sea Level Rise? Land Ice vs Sea Ice) for a more complete picture of sea-level rise.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
  • Scientific strengths: The resource clearly explains the two main drivers of sea level rise: 1. Thermal expansion and 2. Ice Melting. This resource also quickly and clearly explains the greenhouse effect. Concern: The satellite data would not load for me.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students will build a model using everyday items to demonstrate that water expands when heat energy is added.
  • This is a good lab-based activity that can be done in groups or individually.
  • The discussion allows students to consider the connections between the experiment and sea level rise due to climate change.
  • Standards are stated.
  • The assessment questions require understanding other aspects of sea level rise that can be found in extension activity (What's Causing Sea Level Rise? Land Ice vs Sea Ice).

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The cutting and glueing of the straw may be difficult for some students, depending on grade level and other abilities. Teachers may want to prepare the water bottles in advance of the experiment.
  • Getting the materials ready in advance would take some prep time, but would minimize instructional time spent on this and avoid safety issues associated with students using cutting tools and glue guns.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Short Demonstration/Experiment supports:


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