grade 3 science: thermal energy

Posted on: January 23rd, 2016 by jnovakowski

Based on feedback from teachers last spring, we have planned a series of after school sessions supporting new content in the K-7 science curriculum. Each session will look at the learning standards around a specific grade and content area and teachers will experience both the curricular content and competencies through an inquiry-based approach. Connections to the core competencies and First Peoples Principles of Learning will be also be woven throughout the sessions.

This month, the after school science series session focused on the grade 3 science curricular content of thermal energy or heat. This is a new content topic in elementary, previously a focus in secondary science.

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After looking at the curricular content and elaborations to get a sense of the science concepts involved with an understanding of thermal energy for students at this age – sources of heat and how heat is transferred. I mentioned that I noticed the example of a hand warmer in the elaborations which led to me wondering how they worked. Teachers worked in pairs to investigate hand warmers – asking questions, testing different ideas, reading the label of the package, opening up the protective layer to spill out the contents and make observations, using the digital thermometer to measure the increase in heat and collecting this data over time, comparing results, inferring and interpreting what was happening.


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We talked about exothermic reactions and the transfer of thermal energy and how to use the concept of insulation to preserve heat. Some teachers really wanted to know what happening and how the materials in the hand warmer contributed to that and what contributed to the reaction – exposure to oxygen causing oxidation or rusting of the iron. As we re-looked at the science curricular competencies and began to go down the list, one teacher exclaimed – we did almost all of those things! By engaging in a task designed to focus on the “doing” of science, teachers experienced the curriculum how it is intended – curricular content was experienced and uncovered through “doing” which contributed to building knowledge and understanding about thermal energy.

The hand warmer investigation led to a collective group brainstorm about other investigations that students could engage in to learn about heat sources and transfer.

The following are some resources to support this area of study:

Grade 3 Heat Resources

Grade 3 Heat


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