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Using Heat from the Sun

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

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In this activity, students will conduct a discovery activity in which they observe how energy from sunlight can heat water. They will measure liquids, make predictions, observations and comparisons, and draw conclusions based on their investigation. Students will discover that the sun is the ultimate source of almost all energy on Earth, and that we can harness the sun’s power directly as a source of energy.

  1. Label two identical cups; one as “light” and one as “dark.” 

  2. Measure 50 mL of water into each cup. 

  3. Measure the temperature of the water in each cup, and record those temperatures on the student sheets. 

  4. Place the cup labeled “light” in direct sunlight (outside or on a window sill inside the classroom). 

  5. Place the cup labeled “dark” in a dark area of the classroom, away from any heating vents or radiators. 

  6. Each student should predict what he or she thinks the final temperature of the water in each cup will be, and write his/her predictions in the appropriate spaces on the “Sunlight Observations” sheet. 

  7. If possible, students should wait at least one hour, and then measure the temperature both cups once again. Record follow-up temperature observations in the appropriate spaces on the student sheet. 


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