administration student task rubric student work technical quality
Coffee Cooling
Administration Procedures
Grades 9-12 Performance Task
Contributed by: Oregon State Department of Education


Students investigate factors related to keeping coffee hot.

The task assesses students' understanding of scientific inquiry including the following skills: observation, background research, scientific procedures (including investigation design, measurement techniques, and error analysis), data collection, data display, scientific questions, formulating a hypothesis, measurement skills.

This task is designed to take students approximately 45 minutes to gather data, report can be assigned.

Overall Task Content Area:

Physical Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Conservation of energy

Performance Expectations:

  • conducting investigations
  • using equipment
  • gathering, organizing, and representing data
  • formulating conclusions from investigational data

National Science Education Standards:

12 A SI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry: Grades 9-12

1.2 Design and conduct scientific investigations. Designing and conducting a scientific investigation requires introduction to the major concepts in the area being investigated, proper equipment, safety precautions, assistance with methodological problems, recommendations for use of technologies, clarification of ideas that guide the inquiry, and scientific knowledge obtained from sources other than the actual investigation. The investigation may also require student clarification of the question, method, controls, and variables; student organization and display of data; student revision of methods and explanations; and a public presentation of the results with a critical response from peers. Regardless of the scientific investigation performed, students must use evidence, apply logic, and construct an argument for their proposed explanations.

1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence. Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.

8 B PS 3: Transfer of energy: Grades 5-8

3.2 Heat moves in predictable ways, flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones, until both reach the same temperature.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:

AL3: Use mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships:
Grades 9-12 f. draw reasonable conclusions about a situation being modeled

AL4: Analyze change in various contexts:
Grades 9-12 f. approximate and interpret rates of change form graphical and numerical data

MEAS1:Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement:
Grades 9-12 m. make decisions about units and scales that are appropriate for problem situations involving measurement

DAP1: Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them:
Grades 9-12 j. understand the differences among various kinds of studies and which types of inferences can legitimately be drawn from each

PS1: Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving:
Grades 9-12

RP2: Make and investigate mathematical conjectures:
Grades 9-12

REP1: Create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas:
Grades 9-12

General Instructions to the Teacher:

This task is designed to take students approximately 45 minutes to gather data, report can be assigned. .

Students should be ready to work as soon as periods begin. A central supply area, if needed, should be easily accessible. All supplies should be clearly labeled.

Materials for "Coffee Cooling":

The student will need:

  • various insulators
  • thermometers
  • containers
  • hot coffee
  • measuring apparatus
  • coffee additives

Advance Preparation:

Actual Prompt:

There are several approaches that a teacher can take to set up this investigation. Three possible approaches are given here and are given in order from greatest student freedom to greatest teacher direction:


1. To allow for a wide range of student investigations, do a classroom demonstration or lab showing the temperature of beaker that initially has ice water and is heated to boiling, left boil for two minutes, then allow to air-cool for 5 min. Graphing this data would be useful.


Here is a possible contextual situation to help frame an investigation. "Coffee, espressos, and lattes have become more and more popular in the Pacific Northwest. Keeping coffee hot has become important to a lot of companies. What things affect how long coffee stays hot?


Here are some topics that students may choose, or they may choose their own topics. Teachers may propose a list of topics or let students generate it. Some topics will not be useable if certain equipment is unavailable. One possible strategy to get students to research different questions would be to put students in groups of four and insist that each student choose a different question. Topics to consider:

  • insulation thickness
  • container surface area
  • temperature of coffee
  • size of opening of container
  • air currents around container
  • temperature of outside air
  • coffee additives (such as milk or sugar)
  • amount of coffee

(Note: Be sure to discuss the importance of a uniform starting temperature.)


  1. To narrow the range of student investigation, use the same classroom demonstration and context as above, but have student investigations limited to one particular topic (a sample prompt: "Ask a question and propose a hypothesis relating the container's insulation and how long coffee will stay hot.").

  3. Use this topic with the teacher presenting the initial question. Using this technique means that the scoring guide will not be used on the initial question and hypothesis. Instead, after conducting the investigation and analysis, students will propose a question and/or hypothesis for possible future investigation. The teacher can decide whether or not the investigation will actually be conducted (example of prompt: "What effect does the amount of coffee have on the coffee's cooling rate?").


After conducting the investigation and analyzing it, at the end of their report, students would be required to propose a question/hypothesis related to cooling of a substance for further study. It is up to the teacher whether the students would need to design, or possibly even conduct and analyze this extension investigation.


  • Be careful.
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.


  • N/A



©1997-2005 SRI International. All rights reserved. Terms of Use