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Color and Heat
Color and Heat

Absorbing and
Radiating Heat

Students use thermometers in colored cardboard boxes to investigate the effect of several colors on absorbing and radiating heat.

Preparation Materials Leading the Activity Procedure


Advanced Preparation

  • Assemble all materials

  • Paint additional cardboard boxes, using a variety of colors

  • Select a sunny location where the materials can remain undisturbed

  • Try the activity for yourself

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Materials (for each group of students)

  • thermometers

  • cardboard boxes

  • paint

  • journals for recording data

  • aluminum foil to cover a box

Leading the Activity

Discuss the activity allowing students to discuss their ideas and predictions about the investigation. Encourage students to use what they have learned to give reasons that support their predictions. Have the class work in small groups to design and carry out investigations of color and heat. Discuss the observations and ideas from each group as a class following the hands-on exploration.

Discuss/review student experiences with radiant heat energy. Some suggested discussion questions include:

    What color of clothing might help to keep a person warm in cooler weather? Why? What experience have you had with clothing colors and heat?

  • Which is hotter on a summy day, the blocktop or a white sidewalk? Why?

  • Some survival blankets are silver colored. Why might this be? Contact a local search and rescue team, or a sporting goods store and ask.


  1. Discuss how the data will be collected and the role of each group of students. Allow time for each group to decide what colors to investigate and how to proceed with the investigation.

  2. Have the students record initial temperatures and place the thermometers into the boxers. Be sure to identify the boxes so that data can be compared accurately.

  3. Leave the boxes in a sunny location for five or ten minutes.

  4. Ask the students to predict which box will have the highest reading on the thermometer. Discuss what data students have which leads them to their predictions.

  5. As the students retrieve the boxes, ask them to feel which is warmer. They may want to place the box against their cheek for better sensation.

  6. Measure and record the temperatures in the boxes. Calculate the increase in heat for each box.

  7. Order the data into some chart or table form, looking for patterns.

  8. Discuss the data with the students. Encourage students to compare this activity with other experiences they have had with colored materials.

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