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In the Thermal Conductivity Inquiry Lab Kit for AP® Physics 2, use two methods to quantitatively explore the abilities of various materials to conduct thermal energy.

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AP Physics 2, Big Idea 5, Investigation 4

A wooden spoon used to stir pasta in boiling water is safe to hold whereas a metal spoon would burn the chef. This is because wood is a thermal insulator and metal is a thermal conductor. That is, the thermal energy (heat) travels easily from the boiling water along the metal spoon until it is too hot to handle. In contrast, thermal energy does not travel readily through wood, owing to wood’s microscale structure. In this advanced inquiry investigation, students use two methods to explore quantitatively the abilities of various materials to conduct thermal energy.

In the introductory activity, students press their wrists against plastic and metal spoons to come up with a qualitative description of the heat transfer inherent to such contact. In the guided-inquiry portion of the investigation, students explore two slightly more quantitative methods for determining thermal conductivities and then make informed comparisons between the two methods. The guided-inquiry activity promotes deep thinking as students must question the limits of their various experimental designs.

Complete for 24 students working in groups of four. All materials, except the wax, are reusable.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Asking questions and defining problems
Planning and carrying out investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Constructing explanations and designing solutions
Engaging in argument from evidence
Obtaining, evaluation, and communicating information

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
MS-PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
HS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
HS-PS2.B: Types of Interactions
HS-PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

Crosscutting Concepts

Energy and matter

Performance Expectations

MS-PS1-4. 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.
MS-PS3-5. Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.
HS-PS3-2. Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motion of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative position of particles (objects).
HS-PS2-6. Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
HS-PS1-1. Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.