Pivotal Bloggers: Teaching Standards-Aligned Thermal Energy with Iris Color Tools

August 3, 2022

Shown in infrared - a rod heated by a bunsen burner transfers energy to a brass block at the end. Iris temperature tool reads 43.5C

Pivotal Bloggers: Teaching Standards-Aligned Thermal Energy with Iris Color Tools

Physics Teacher Marta Stoeckel describes how with the Iris temperature tool in Pivot Interactives, she can truly use three-dimensional instruction as outlined in NGSS-based state standards and her students will make more insightful observations, take quantitative measurements, and understand concepts better.

Minnesota, the state where I live, is in the process of adopting new state science standards based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As a physics teacher and a curriculum leader, I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach some of the standards I haven’t taught before. The NGSS and state standards related to thermal energy are especially tricky since heat transfer is mostly invisible.

That’s why I’m so excited about using Pivot Interactives Iris color & light measurement tool with thermal imaging. It will enable us to do three dimensional instruction for thermal energy.  The new thermal conductivity of materials activity, where rods heated in a bunsen burner transfer energy to a brass block will be critical in our instruction.

New Kinds of Observations

When I showed students a preview of the thermal conductivity of materials, where rods heated in a bunsen burner transfer energy to a brass block, they were excited too. They were fascinated by how the thermal imaging let them see the heat moving through the rod and came up with all kinds of interesting questions and observations they wouldn’t have been able to if we had done something similar in-person. For example, one student noticed the brass block seemed to heat up evenly, while the rod had a clear gradient.

Quantitative Measurements with Iris™ 

As great as it is for students to be making these observations, Iris makes these thermal videos even more powerful than just qualitative data. Students get that the color of a thermal image is related to the temperature, so whenever I use thermal images, my students often want to turn those colors into numbers. Iris finally gives my students a way to make those measurements.

Making Concepts Clearer with Iris™ 

The measurements we can make with Iris aren’t just about satisfying my students’ curiosity and using the science practices, as important as that is. The quantitative data we can collect with it also makes important concepts clearer. For example, I think of thermal conductivity as a rate since it describes how quickly an object can transfer energy. When comparing the thermal conductivity of identical rods made of different materials, students compared the slopes of a temperature vs. time graph for each material to see from their data that copper transferred more thermal energy every minute than steel, which lead to a great operational definition of thermal conductivity.

The quantitative data also illuminated all kinds of subtle, interesting details. For example, in the section of the activity on varying the diameter of otherwise identical rods, students could see clearly from the thermal video that the hot part of the rod spread out the fastest in the thinnest rod, so the thin rod was the first to start heating up the brass block.

The graph, however, shows that the thinnest rod has the shallowest slope, so transfers the least amount of thermal energy per minute to the brass block. This little observation would be very difficult to make in my classroom and leads to all kinds of interesting discussion about heat capacity and other ideas related to heat transfer. 

Teaching Thermal Energy - NGSS / State Standards Aligned

Pivot Interactives Iris Color & Light Measurement tool is invaluable as I work with my colleagues to deliver truly three-dimensional instruction, based on the new state science standards, for thermal energy topics. I’m so excited that with Pivot Interactives, I can not only give my students a way to visualize something like heat transfer, but a way to make meaningful, quantitative measurements of real scenarios. Students can make insightful observations, take quantitative measurements, and understand concepts better, which is exactly what I hope for as a physics teacher.