Overview In this lesson students investigate the physical characteristics of good
insulators and create an experiment to test the effect of installation
quality on an insulator’s performance. Students also learn to analyze the
economic benefits of good insulation by calculating heat loss through
building materials. This lesson encompasses two lab activities and should
be tailored to fit the needs of your students. In the first activity, students
use different materials to insulate containers of hot water, and their
objectives to identify the physical characteristic that make materials
good insulators. The second activity focuses on the in the installation of
insulation in buildings, and students are asked to design an experiment
that compares a “well insulated“ container of water in this lesson plan the
first activity asks students to experiment with containers of ice water set
containers of hot water while the second asks them to experiment with
containers of ice water or underneath heat lamps . This experiment al set
up is designed to help students understand the effectiveness of insulation
in both heating and cooling climates. However, each method ( either hot
or cold) is equally able to illustrate how insulation resists heat
transmission, so the experimental setup can be tailored to suit the need of
Students will be able to explain the relationship
between conduction, convection, radiation, and
insulation by identifying the various physical
properties that make a material a good insulator.
Students will be able to identify independent,
dependent, and controlled variables by designing
and conducting their own original scientific
Students will be able to articulate methods to
improve the efficiency of a building envelope.
Next Generation Science Standards
HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-
world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-
offs that account for a range of constraints, including
cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible
social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
HS-PS3-4. Plan and conduct an investigation to
provide evidence that the transfer of thermal energy
when two components of different temperature are
combined within a closed system results in a more
uniform energy distribution among the components in
the system (second law of thermodynamics).
Systems and System Models
Models (e.g., physical, mathematical,
computer models) can be used to simulate
systems and interactions—including energy,
matter, and information flows— within and
between systems at different scales. (HS-
Tin cans or paper cups, at least 4 per team.
Hot water (for heating climate experiment),
approximately 4 cups per team.
Ice water (for cooling climate experiment),
approximately 4 cups per team.
Thermometers with a range of 0°C to 110°C, 4 per
Various materials to test for their insulating value
such as : ◦ Bubble wrap ◦ Cardboard ◦ Newspaper
◦ Aluminum foil ◦ Cotton cloth (such as an old t-
Denim Insulation, approximately 3 sq. ft.
per team. For the second activity, students
will be using real building insulation and
any natural fiber insulation will work.
Fiberglass should not be used as it is a skin
and reparatory irritant.
Heat lamps (or lamp fixtures with high
wattage light bulbs), 1 per team.
Convection – The transfer of heat through a fluid, such as water
Conduction – The transfer of heat from molecule to molecule in
a solid substance.
Independent variable – The part of an experiment you can
change in order to test a hypothesis
Dependent variable – The part of an experiment that you
measure to determine the results of the change you made.
Controlled Variable – A variable that you can control so that it
does not unintentionally affect the results of the experiment.
R-vale – a measurement of the extent to which a material
resists heat transmission; higher R-values indicate more
resistance to heat transmission.
1. What dose R-value measure?
2. Explain the difference between
dependent and independent
3. Why is it important to identify
variables that must be controlled in
Material 1 Material 2 Material 3
Is it thick or
Is it reflective ?
Is it rough or
Is it solid or