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Greenhouse S'Mores

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

The Science of the Sun's Heat

In this activity, students learned the following properties of global resources.

  • Different materials absorb and trap heat differently. Transparent materials (such as the plastic cup in this activity) act like glass windows in a greenhouse or automobile. Our atmosphere works in a similar way. It lets light and other forms of radiation from the sun pass through. Earth’s surface then becomes warmer (like the seats in a car parked in the sun) as it absorbs the sun’s energy.
  • Some materials allow light to pass through, but do not let heat escape. Some of the sun’s energy passes through the transparent gases in the lower layer of Earth’s atmosphere. However, gases like carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and water vapor (the so-called “greenhouse gases”) absorb some of the heat and send it out again in all directions, including back toward the surface. This warms the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere. Without the warming effect of greenhouse gases, the average surface temperature of the Earth would be around -18 degrees Celsius (about 0 degrees Fahrenheit), instead of the actual temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees F)
  • Lead a discussion connecting students’ observations of the S’mores to what happens inside a car parked in the sun. Like the clear plastic cup, the windows of an automobile let sunlight through, but do not allow heated air to escape. You also may want to refer to page 9 of the story, Mr. Slaptail’s Curious Contraption. Help students understand that certain gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide, act like the clear cups in their experiment. These gases keep the surface of the planet warmer than it would be otherwise.

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education