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Cooling Liquid
Administration Procedures
Grades 9-12 Performance Task
Contributed by: Oregon State Department of Education


Students investigate the variables affecting the cooling of a container of liquid.

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 5 class periods.

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:

AL1: Understand patterns, relations and functions:
Grades 9-12 k. analyze functions of one variable by investigating rates of change, intercepts, zeros, asymptotes, and local and global beha

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 from graphical and numerical data

DAP1: Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them:
Grades 9-12 l. understand the meaning of measurement data and categorical data, of univariate and bivariate data, and of the term variable
Grades 9-12 m. understand histograms, parallel box plots, and scatter plots and use them to display data

PS2: Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts:
Grades 9-12

COM1: Organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking through communication:
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 5 class periods.

Introduction/exploration one 90-minute block

Data collection/Design two 90-minute blocks

Write up time two 90-minute blocks

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:

  • water
  • lids for coffee cups
  • Bunsen burner/hot plates
  • thermometers
  • variety of containers
  • hot coffee
  • graduated cylinder
  • coffee additives

Advance Preparation:

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. Obviously the container material makes a difference. What other 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.


The teacher can allow the students to generate a list or choose from the following topics.

  • 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 mile or sugar
  • color of container
  • amount of coffee
  • other student selected topics


  • 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.


  • After completing the original investigation, students should frame a follow-up investigation.



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