A thermometer can be one of the first measuring instruments that kids learn about. Teaching first graders about thermometers will require an explanation of the concept of temperature through hands-on experience. Once kids sense the difference between hot, warm, ambient and cold temperatures, they can be guided toward understanding that these sensations can be perceived in diverse manners by different people. This can pave the way for explaining about thermometers and the principles on which they work, and the concept can be reinforced by carrying out real-time measurements.
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Label and arrange five beakers on a classroom table and pour one of the following into each: ice-cold water, cool water, water at room temperature, warm water and hot (but not boiling) water. Draw a table on the blackboard with two columns--one for the beaker number and the other to write down the sensation it gives. Have the children dip their finger into the ice-cold water and ask them how it felt. Repeat this with each of the beakers and write down the sensation the kids feel each time. Draw attention to the differences the kids observed among the different beakers. Explain the concept of temperature as the degree of hotness or coldness. Ask kids to give examples of things they know that are hot and cold.
Take the kids out to the playground and have them stand in the sunlight. Then have them gather under a tree or enter the school building and ask them what difference they noticed. Most kids will say it was hot on the playground and cool under the tree or inside the building. Explain that air gets heated by the sun and the amount of heat varies because of the amount of exposure to sunlight.
Ask children to describe how hot or cold the water in the beaker was or how hot it was on the playground. Listen to their responses and use the different ways in which they respond to explain that terms such as "hot," "cooler" or "hottest" are not definite values and the meaning can vary from person to person. Introduce them to the idea that temperature is an exact value that can be measured using instruments called thermometers.
Explain the concept that hot objects need more space than cold objects, and therefore objects will take up more space as they become hotter. Display a simple thermometer and explain the basic working principle in terms of the liquid inside moving up as it senses more heat and moving down when the heat is reduced.
Use the same beaker set-up as before and demonstrate how the temperature is read. Mention the different units used to measure temperature such as the Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin scales. Point out the temperature of the water in each beaker and write it on the blackboard in a third column. Explain how this is now more specific than the previous description of the sensation. Use a thermometer to read playground and indoor temperatures and again point out the differences between these values.
Give examples of situations where thermometers are used such as in monitoring weather, checking to see if someone has a fever, finding the meat temperature during cooking and determining temperatures in the refrigerator and oven.
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