Surface Temperatures in the Wildlands: How Do They Compare?
Description: This project is an excellent method of reinforcing use of metric/temperature measurement and assessing student knowledge of temperature, measurement, data collection/presentation/graphing and environmental issues. The students will also learn about how temperature differs depending upon the type of surface area.

Grade Levels: The Surface Temperatures experiment can be adapted for use in grades k thru 12 (Note: This experiment can be simplified or made more challenging depending on the developmental levels of your students. See Teacher Information.)

Approximate Time Involved: Time for class information prior to experimentation will require a minimum of two 45 minute teacher/student lecture/discussion times. Student preparation of materials prior to experiment will take 10 minutes. Collection of data will require approximately 30 minutes. Students will need approximately 30 minutes to prepare data tables and enter information. Class discussion following experimentation will require at least 45 minutes and if student excitement is allowed to flourish, environmental impact discussions and debates could require two to 3 -30 minute sessions

National Science Standards Addressed:

Content Standard A: As a result of activities in grades K-12, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Content Standard C: As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of:

  • (K-4) Organisms and environments
  • (5-8) Structure and function in living things
  • (5-8) Populations and ecosystems
  • (9-12) Interdependence of organisms

Program Standard D: The K-12 science program must give students access to appropriate and sufficient resources, including quality teachers, time, materials, and equipment, adequate and safe space, and the community.

  • Good science programs require access to the world beyond the classroom.

Teacher Information:

The Surface Temperatures in the Wildlands, how do they compare? Is an excellent method of reinforcing use of metric/temperature measurement and assessing student knowledge of temperature, measurement, data collection/presentation/graphing and environmental issues, and addresses numerous cross-curricular standards. The investigation for example can be used for Social Studies (laws governing thermal pollution), English (writing about surfaces in the Wildlands for an English paper/project, Math (use of conversion factors, averages, data collection), Science (other possible science applications include potential uses for data collected in this experiment-students should see a connection between choices of building materials, concrete/asphalt ground covers and potential affects on thermal pollution.)

This should become a team exercise where your student groups might each develop and write a hypothesis, list the materials they would use , the number of items, and a procedure. An excellent way to assess this activity is to have the teams repeat each other's experiment to see if they achieve the same results. This will also replicate the real world challenges facing a research scientist.

Challenging Your Students to Be Problem Solvers:

Inquiry based activities that could be included follow: Design and conduct an investigation to measure the temperatures of different surfaces in the Wildlands that are exposed to direct sunlight. Ask what effect choices of surface materials could have on environmental temperatures. Why are considerations of surface building materials important? As a contractor, should you consider environmental effects even though the price for job completion may be higher? Should contractors be held responsible for thermal pollution if their building/surface structure has a potential to produce extreme temperatures that inversely affect the environment? Note-this topic is excellent for a debate (Speech, English, Social Studies or Science).

Needed Materials: 3 Celsius thermometers that have been calibrated, notebooks/pencils, map of Wildland locations, rulers for creating data tables, graph paper to graph results, stakes and tape.

Safety Rule: Students should use caution when measuring surface temperatures because of potential breakage due to mishandling or accidentally dropping glass thermometers. Thermometers should also be alcohol, not mercury, especially for young students. Care should be taken to remove any glass or other material accidentally spilled.


Student Information: The following information will provide you with the steps for setting up your surface temperature experiments. You will need to mark the site being measured with water-proof tape or a stake dependent on the surface being measured. It is important to always take temperatures in the same manner, and allow 3 minutes for the thermometer to take an accurate measurement (removal too quickly will result in poor data collection). Three measurements should be taken at each site so an average can be calculated for accuracy in measurement.

1. Using a Wildlands map, you will identify the sites for surface temperature measurements. Possibilities may include bare soil, grassy areas, concrete, asphalt, gravel, ground tire playground areas, wood chipped surfaces, rubber (track surface) water surface etc., dependent on your Wildlands setting.
2. Mark your site using tape or a stake. (use a waterproof marker to write the name of the site and the site number
3. Take the temperature at your site(s) and record your data.
4. Create a data table to display and compare your results.

Below is a list of questions that can be used to stimulate student discussions. If your students are at a developmental level where you are able to challenge their higher level thinking skills, then only present them with the first set of questions from each group below. Use the second list of questions as a way to stimulate thinking when you students seem unable to expand their knowledge on their own.

Examining Local Results

Discussion Questions that Require More Critical Thinking Skills:

  • How did the surface temperatures for the various sites compare? Which site had the highest surface temperature? Which site had the lowest surface temperature?
  • What conclusions did you draw based on your measurements of Wildlands surface temperatures?
  • What could you infer based on your observations of temperatures of different surfaces in the Wildlands?
  • What are some potential implications of using various surface materials in the Wildlands setting?
  • Should consideration be given to the environmental implications when deciding on materials to be used for future construction in the Wildlands?
  • How would you design this experiment differently next time?

Discussion Questions that Require Less Critical Thinking Skills

  • Were your surprised to see such variation in surface temperatures?
  • Did man-made materials have higher temperatures than natural materials?
  • If the answer to the above question is yes, which materials was most heat absorbent?
  • Which surfaces were least absorbent?
  • Does choice of materials reflect use of surface?
  • What surface materials may be used in elementary schoolyards, that may not be found in High Schoolyards?
  • What materials may be found in High Schoolyards that are not in elementary schoolyards? How did your measurements compare to your predictions?

Surface Temperature Links

Convert It! Use this site to do some quick conversions.

Global Hydrology and Climate Center A joint venture between government and academia to study the global water cycle and its effect on climate.

University of Illinois: Department of Atmospheric Sciences This site provides information about weather and research activities

University of Michigan weather This site provides access to thousands of forecasts, images, and the Net's largest collection of weather links

Weather.Gov Interactive Weather Information Network

Fun Trivia Temperature trivia and facts

More links to Schoolyard Habitat Information

Schoolyard Habitat Links Learn more about developing and maintaining schoolyard and backyard habitats by visiting these links.

This activity was adapted from a lesson created for

by Barbara Vinson, Cahokia High School Lab Science Instructor . An on-line version can be found @