In Part 1 of this activity, we recommend students work in pairs. In Part 2 of this activity, we recommend students work in groups of four. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need someone to help with a few of the steps.
You need to set up at least two Experimental Stations with a heat source (a desk lamp with an incandescent bulb or a heated gel pack. You can heat the gel packs in the microwave, but they’ll only stay warm for about 30 minutes). For a class of 32 students, we recommend having two or more Experimental Stations. Four students will use each station at a time. When students are not using the Experimental Stations, they will be discussing ideas at their desks.
Plan Your Time
Part 1 (building a Heat Spinner) takes 15 to 20 minutes.
Part 2 (experimenting with the Heat Spinners) takes another 15 to 20 minutes.
You may want to divide this lesson into two sessions, stopping after Part 1 and continuing with the Experimental Stations another day. If you plan to do the activity in two sessions, Part 2 begins here.
Prepare Push Pins (Optional)
Push each push pin into the eraser of a pencil. This makes the push pins easier for students to handle.
Prepare the Worksheets
Cut each “Get to Know Your Spinners” printout on the dotted line. Each student needs a half sheet. Cut each “Heat Spinners” printout on the dotted line. Each pair of students needs a half sheet.
Cut the “Do Not Touch the Light Bulb!” printout on the dotted line to make two signs. You need one sign for each Experimental Station with a lamp.
Set Up Your Experiment Stations
To set up each station, place your heat source on a table away from drafts. If you are using a lamp as a heat source, put the “Do Not Touch the Light Bulb!” sign beside the lamp, plug the lamp in, and let it warm up for a few minutes before students experiment. If you’re using heat gel packs, heat them in the microwave right before class.
Watch Our Video for An Important Tip
Watch this video and notice when the spinner moves and when it stops.
The spinner moves because rising hot air pushes on it. That rising air has to come from somewhere. In the video, the spinner moves when there’s a gap between the heat source and the cup. Cool air moves through this gap and replaces the rising hot air.
This is called the “chimney effect,” and it can make a big difference in how much the spinner moves. We like to use a lamp because students usually don’t set the cup directly on top of the heat source. If you use a gel pack or some other heat source, be aware that closing off the bottom of the cup completely can stop the circulation of air and therefore the movement of your spinner.