Back to Weather Timeline

Back to Entire 6th Grade Timeline

Lesson 2: “A Hot Contest” from Wild About Weather


Objectives:  After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

·         take air temperature measurements above different surfaces

·         compare how effectively different surfaces turn sunlight into heat

·         infer results and conclusions from classroom temperature data sets


Key Question: How do different surfaces absorb sunlight?


Overview: This activity must be scheduled flexibly because it requires a sunny day.  Pairs of students will choose one of several different surfaces on the schoolyard and use a thermometer to measure the air temperature directly above that surface. They will record their measurement on the white/black board, and the whole class will infer results and conclusions from the combined data set.  You can expect measurement error in this activity, but patterns should emerge from the data. Some surfaces, such as asphalt, will reach a higher temperature than surrounding air.  Other surfaces, such as grass, will stay relatively cool.


The surface measurement activity should be followed by a direct comparison of heating of sand and water.  This can be done either in bright sunlight or else in the classroom with electric lamps for heating.  The Prentice Hall text outlines such an activity on pp. 472-473.  I recommend adding a cup of dark planting soil to the comparison.  Again, recording results on the board will provide a good classroom discussion.  Such discussion will be a useful reference in the weather activities to follow.


Time Required:  45-60 minutes (1 class session)



·         a sunny day

·         one student thermometer (aluminum backing) for each group

·         one Styrofoam cup for each group

·         (optional for discussion) Prentice Hall transparencies: #58 Energy in the Atmosphere; #59 Types of Heat Transfer


Procedure:  See p. 9 in Ranger Rick’s NatureScope: Wild About Weather.  Also see pp. 473-473 in Prentice Hall text for sand and water measurements.


Assessment:  Class discussion of combined data on the board.  Look for the ability to generalize varying measurements, recognize measurement errors, and develop hypotheses to explain why some surfaces or materials heat more than others.  This is also a good time to reinforce good group participation with grading credit.


OUSD Science Content Standards (State of California Science Content Standards):

3a 3c, 3d, 4a, 4b, 4d. 4e, 7b, 7c



National Wildlife Federation, Ranger Rick’s NatureScope, Wild About Weather. Triangle Learning Triangle Press, An Imprint of McGraw-Hill, New York, 1989, 1998.


Notes:  Cheap, sturdy student thermometers are not really accurate.  The best way to compensate for this is for groups to first record room temperature in the classroom, then record the temperature above an outside surface. By finding the difference between the two readings students will be able to compare the effect of moving outside.  See example below:


Type of Surface

Starting Temperature (C)

Surface Temperature (C)

Temperature Change (C)