Easy Radiation of Heat Activities for Kids

Teaching radiation of heat? Start with simple hands-on experiences. Then discuss characteristics. In this form of energy transfer, heat radiates through the air or space.

Ms. Sneed Prepares to Teach Radiation of Heat

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her teaching partner. “So,” she said, “let’s continue planning our thermal energy unit. We already worked on conduction. Additionally, we planned convection. Today we’ll tackle radiation of heat.”

As usual, Mr. Frank opened his laptop. Then he began to click around. In no time, he found their heat materials.

“Like the other physical science labs,” he said, “kids use inquiry approach and make generalizations.” He turned his screen so she could see.

“Great. Nice and easy. As I’ve said before, the simplest experiences can illustrate the most profound science concepts.”

Ms. Sneed Begins Teaching

The next morning, Ms. Sneed looked at her plan book. Unlike other days, today’s labs required no science materials.

Soon her students began to file in. As usual, they walked over to the side table. “Hey!” said one child, “No science this morning? Where are the materials?”

“No worries,” their teacher replied. “Our experiments on radiation of heat require no extra stuff.”

Activity 1

Once she had taken attendance and lunch count, Ms. Sneed began. “Today,” she said, “you’re going to learn about radiation of heat. The activities are super short and simple, but you will fill out a lab sheet.”

As she distributed the papers, she explained. “For the first activity, you’ll simply hold your hand near a few heat sources. I’d like the east side of the room to head to the radiator first. You’ll line up and take turns holding your hand near it. However, you will not touch it.” The students on that side of the room wasted no time moving over to the radiator.

“You guys,” she said, pointing to the remaining students, “will line up near my desk. I’ve left my light on all morning, so I’m sure it’s pretty hot to the touch. Like the other group, you’ll put your hand near it. But don’t touch it! I don’t want of you to burn your hands.” Those students got busy too.

When they had all returned to their seats, Ms. Sneed continued. “So, what did you feel?”

A child in the front row piped up, “Heat! My hand got warm.”

Ms. Sneed smiled. “Right. Like we discussed before, heat travels from warmer objects and places to a cooler objects and places.

“Through what was the heat traveling?”

A chorus of “the air” filled the classroom.

“Go ahead and write your observations on your lab sheet,” Ms. Sneed said. “Then we’ll do the second activity.”

In the first activity on radiation of heat, third, fourth, or fifth grade students hold their hands near - but not touching - heat sources, such as a radiator, bowl of hot water, or light bulb.
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Activity 2

Once the students had finished writing, Ms. Sneed asked them to line up by the classroom door. Then they all walked down the hall, out the door, and into the sunlight.

“Now we’ll consider the light of the Sun,” she said. “All you have to do is compare the heat in the sunlight and in the shade.”

On cue, some kids raced around in the sunlight, while others stood still and soaked it in. Then Ms. Sneed noticed some students standing in the shade of a tree. Others huddled under the slide on the playground.

In the second activity, students learn that radiation of heat also travels through space. They stand in the sunlight and shade. Then they compare the temperatures.

A Little Added Experiment on Radiation of Heat

As her students explored, Ms. Sneed pulled some materials out of her bag. First, she laid two thermometers on the sidewalk. Then she covered one thermometer with a sheet of white construction paper and another with black.

Before too long, students moved over to where Ms. Sneed was working. “Whatcha doing?” they asked.

“Just a little experiment. I was wondering about colors of paper and radiation of heat. Do you think one of these set-ups will heat up more?”

“My mom says it’s better to wear a white t-shirt on hot days,” one child offered.

“Yeah,” said another. “My grandpa says that black absorbs heat.”

“We’ll see.”

Before too long, Ms. Sneed lifted the papers. Everyone leaned in to measure the temperature. Sure enough, it was a few degrees higher on the thermometer that had been covered with black paper.

Defining Radiation of Heat

Once they’d had a chance to make observations – and burn off a little extra energy – Ms. Sneed asked the students to line up again. Then they headed back into the school, down the hall, and to their classroom.

Once they’d returned to their seats, kids wrote their responses for Activity 2. While all students agreed that they felt warmer in the sunlight, they disagreed about the medium through which it had traveled. Some wrote air, but others wrote space.

“Hmm,” Ms. Sneed asked, “which is it?”

A boy in the back called out. “Both! First it travels through space. Then it enters our atmosphere and travels through air.”

Ms. Sneed smiled. “You know, I was going to say space, but you’re right! I didn’t think of it that way.”

Then she picked up a marker. “So,” she said,

Radiation of heat occurs when thermal energy travels through the air or space.

Radiation of heat energy occurs when it travels through space or the air.

Enjoy Teaching Radiation

Later that afternoon, Ms. Sneed again sat at the side table with Mr. Frank. “Actually, I had fun teaching radiation of heat,” she said. “Although it’s a sophisticated topic, these easy labs gave our fourth grade students the background information they need.”

“Yep,” her teaching partner responded. Then a slow smile spread across his face and he winked. “And sometimes, it’s just great to get outside and into the sunshine.”

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