Thermal Energy Insulated Cup STEM Challenge | Conductors and Insulators Project

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STEM in the Middle
Grade Levels
5th - 8th, Homeschool
Resource Type
Formats Included
  • Zip
  • Google Apps™
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STEM in the Middle
Includes Google Apps™
The Teacher-Author indicated this resource includes assets from Google Workspace (e.g. docs, slides, etc.).
Easel Activity Included
This resource includes a ready-to-use interactive activity students can complete on any device.  Easel by TPT is free to use! Learn more.
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Looking for an engaging way for your students to solidify and apply their knowledge of thermal energy, heat transfer, conductors, and insulators? Then it’s time for a hot cocoa party! In this exciting STEM challenge, students are tasked with designing and building an insulated cup that will keep hot cocoa warm. The project supports Next Generation Science Standards, including the performance expectations MS-PS3-3 and MS-ETS1-1.

First, students will conduct background research to learn about insulators and conductors. Then they will use their knowledge of thermal energy to design an insulated cup. They’ll test their cup’s ability to limit heat transfer by adding hot water and observing the temperature over a 30 minute period. 

Before engaging in this conductors and insulators project, students should have some background knowledge of how to use a thermometer. This project is perfect for middle school physical science students but it also makes for an awesome winter STEM challenge for any middle school class!

Grab this resource today so you can take a break from planning and know your students will still be learning and having fun as you wrap up your energy unit or celebrate a winter holiday!


What’s included in the thermal energy STEM challenge?

  • Detailed teacher notes
  • Printable, Google, and Easel versions of the student packet
  • Embedded links to quality background research video clips and an article
  • An easy-to-use grading rubric
  • A slideshow to assist with lesson facilitation
  • Certificates to celebrate your students at the end of the project
  • Suggestions for building materials, differentiation, and distance learning

Materials needed:

  • Printed or digital copies of the student project packet
  • Copies of the background research article or a device to read on (optional)
  • Hot chocolate (for an optional celebration after the project!)
  • A paper or plastic cups
  • Various household materials (fabric scraps, cardboard, foil, plastic wrap, bubble wrap, etc.) - These materials are flexible and you can use what you have on hand!
  • Hot water, thermometers, and a timer for testing the cups


How can the conductors and insulators project be used in your classroom?

  • Wrap up your study of thermal energy by challenging students to apply what they've learned with this performance task.
  • Keep your students learning and engaged before the winter break.
  • Use the challenge to keep students on task when you have unusual schedules or low attendance due to field trips, testing, assemblies, winter holiday celebrations, or other interruptions.
  • Give your students practice with problem-solving using the engineering design process.
  • Introduce your students to real-world STEM disciplines and professions.
  • Give students an opportunity to develop their 21st-century skills, such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.
  • Assign the resource for extra credit, a holiday break packet, home learning or an extension activity.



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Total Pages
Answer Key
Rubric only
Teaching Duration
3 hours
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer. Examples of devices could include an insulated box, a solar cooker, and a Styrofoam cup. Assessment does not include calculating the total amount of thermal energy transferred.
Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.


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