'Really cool science' at Park Middle School

Dave Beatty likes his tea cold - very cold.

Students in his sixth-grade differentiated science class at Park Middle School are learning how their teacher can best keep his tea chilled. They’re studying thermal energy transfer. On a recent Wednesday, they conducted experiments to study the effect the color of a plastic cup has on the temperature of the liquid inside. 

“It’s incredible science for sixth grade,” Beatty said. “I think it’s really cool.”

His students agree. One of them, Kaitlin, excitedly described in detail that day’s experiment, which involved darkening the room and shining light through both clear and colored plastic cups, then measuring and comparing the energy produced. They discovered light more easily passed through the clear cups, meaning the warmth of the light would warm any liquids inside - i.e., the rise in temperature causes atoms and molecules to move faster and collide with each other, therefore producing more thermal energy. 

“But if it’s opaque, the heat can’t get in and then the drink stays colder,” Kaitlin explained. 

In the follow-up lesson the next day, students evaluated their data and learned that it’s a bit more complex than that: dark colors that absorb most of the light also heat up the liquid inside.  

Beatty is piloting a curriculum for Lincoln Public Schools provided by OpenSciEd, which provides high-quality, open-source, full-course science instructional materials. The study of thermal energy is the first unit; he’ll teach another about weather later this semester. 

“There is no perfect curriculum, but OpenSciEd is a game changer,” said James Blake, LPS K-12 science curriculum specialist. “They provide free professional, noncommercial curriculum aligned to Nebraska College and Career Ready Science Standards at the middle school level." 

Beatty attended a workshop this summer about teaching the OpenSciEd curriculum. He was hooked.

“It's very well done,” he said. “It's not just stuff that's thrown on the internet. They've designed the unit, tested the unit, revised the unit and then released it in its final form.”

Blaked added, “Dave exemplifies the important aspect of immersing himself in professional development resulting in very effective instruction. We’ll be exploring this resource in coming years for all LPS middle school science classrooms through a formal pilot."

For Beatty’s students, there were plenty of real-life applications learned from the thermal energy unit - for example, how a traditional thermometer works. 

Oh, and how Mr. Beatty can keep his tea nice and cold.

Published: February 25, 2020, Updated: February 25, 2020