Fifth Graders Study Heat Transfer

What do NASA scientists and our fifth-grade students have in common? They both study heat transfer!

NASA’s work ensures that astronauts can safely return to earth after orbital and sub-orbital missions. In fifth grade, scientists are thinking creatively and collaboratively to solve their own problem: construct a heat shield to protect a bolt.

Branson Lawrence, Middle School Science Teacher, created this heat shield activity as part of the Astronomy unit. Students can see the different ways that heat is transferred. He used glue to attach a bolt to a piece of wood, then surrounded it with various materials to create a heat shield.

“We discussed how the heat transfer of conduction happens from one end of the bolt to the other and melts the glue,” he explained. “We also discussed how the heat traveled to the space around the glue by the heat transfer of radiation.” With his help, and the help of Kelly Long, Middle School Science Teacher, students used that knowledge and provided materials to construct their own heat shields, attempting to keep the glue from melting and dropping the bolt. They collaborated with each other to sketch out designs and debate effective strategies before constructing their heat shields.

Finally, they took their inventions to the Middle School courtyard to test, just as NASA scientists must test their designs before flight.

What a fun, engaging project! Perhaps what the students learned in their fifth-grade science class will help them design a heat shield on a space vehicle someday!