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STEM Thermometer Challenge: Understanding Temperature Measurement

Grade Level: 6th to 8th

Subject: Science


By the end of this lesson, students will understand the principles behind temperature measurement, learn about different types of thermometers, and engage in a hands-on activity to build their own thermometer.

Materials Needed

  • Thermometers (any available types)

  • Cups of water at different temperatures (hot, cold, room temperature)

  • Markers

  • Rulers

  • Straws

  • Worksheet or piece of paper for recording observations

Introduction (10 minutes)

Today, we're diving into temperature measurement with our STEM Thermometer Challenge. Have you ever wondered how we measure how hot or cold it is accurately? Well, get ready to find out.

Let's kick things off by discussing temperature. What comes to mind when you think of temperature? Ice cream melting on a hot summer day? Hot cocoa warming you up in the winter? Temperature affects our daily lives in so many ways.

Ask your students: How do we measure temperature? Have a brief discussion to gather their thoughts.

Understanding Temperature (15 minutes)

Alright, let's break it down. Imagine temperature as a scale that tells us how hot or cold something is, just like a volume knob on a stereo tells us how loud the music is.

Temperature is like a language that objects and substances speak to us. When something is hot, its molecules are moving fast, while cold things have slower, more sluggish molecules.

Now, let's talk about different types of thermometers. We have digital thermometers, mercury thermometers, alcohol thermometers, and many more. They may function differently, but they all help us measure temperature.

Show your students the thermometers your classroom has access to. Answer any questions your students may have.

Activity: Building Your Own Thermometer (30 minutes)

Are you ready for some hands-on fun? We're going to build our own thermometers.

Provide your students with the following instructions:

  1. Select a clear plastic straw.

  2. Using a marker, mark lines at regular intervals, such as every centimeter, to create a scale.

  3. Label the scale with Celsius temperature values. 1 cm = 1 degree Celsius.

Observation and Data Collection (15 minutes)

Once the thermometers are built, it's time to put them to the test. Provide your students with the following instructions:

  1. Place cups of water at different temperatures in front of each group: hot, cold, and room temperature.

  2. Fill your straw with water by submerging the straw into a cup of water.

  3. Seal the straw with your finger to trap water inside.

  4. Carefully remove the straw from the cup.

  5. While holding the open end with your finger, flip the straw and position it vertically so the water doesn't spill out.

  6. Observe the water level inside the straw. Depending on the temperature, the water level will rise or fall.

  7. As the temperature increases, the water inside the straw will expand, causing the level to rise. 

  8. As the temperature decreases, the water will contract, causing the level to fall.

  9. Have students observe and record the water level inside their thermometers for each cup of water on a piece of paper or a worksheet.

  10. Ask your students to discuss with their group how temperature affects the volume of water inside the straw and how this principle is used in traditional thermometers.

Conclusion and Discussion (15 minutes)

Now that we've completed our STEM Thermometer Challenge let's reflect on what we've learned.

Ask your students: What did you discover about temperature measurement? How do different types of thermometers work? Why is it important to accurately measure temperature in various situations?

Encourage students to share their observations and insights with the class. Highlight the practical applications of temperature measurement in everyday life, such as weather forecasting, cooking, and scientific research.

Homework (Optional)

  • Research and write one paragraph about the history of thermometers and how temperature measurement has evolved. 

  • Conduct experiments at home using your straw thermometer to explore how temperature affects different materials and substances.


Assess students based on their participation in discussions, engagement in the hands-on activity, and understanding of temperature measurement.


In conducting the STEM Thermometer Challenge activity, ensure all your students feel included and able to participate to the best of their abilities.

Accessibility: Consider the needs of your students, including those with physical disabilities or sensory sensitivities. Provide alternative materials or adaptations as necessary to accommodate individual differences. For example, if a student cannot make their own thermometer, allow them to use a classroom thermometer to help check the accuracy of the straw thermometers.

Written by Brooke Lektorich
Education World Contributor
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