What happens when….? Exploring temperature and conduction

What happens to metal when it comes into contact with a hot liquid? What about plastic? Or wood? What happens when they touch a cold liquid? What happens when you mix something hot with something cold?

Today we did an experiment to find out.

We started out with three pots of water: one was hot from the kettle (be aware of your child’s development and understanding if you want to do this – my 19 month old knows about hot and not to touch it, and I supervised closely), the second was lukewarm, the third had ice cubes in it to make it really cold.

Then we took our implements – three metal spoons, three plastic spoons, wooden spatula and a couple of silicone ones – and started dipping them into the different pots of water.

The handles of the metal spoons quickly turned the same temperature as the water they were in. The plastic ones took longer to feel any affect and didn’t get so hot or so cold, and the wooden and silicone handles didn’t really change temperature at all!

We found out that metal conducts heat better than plastic, which conducts heat better than wood or silicone. We did talk about the differences, but we didn’t get around to talking about why the free electrons in metals allow heat to transfer more quickly. My little scientists were more interested in mixing the ice and hot water to see the ice melt and the water become warm. In fact, that was definitely the best bit. Maybe next time.


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