Testing Insulation - SCOPES Digital Fabrication

Lesson Details

Age Ranges
3.MD.A1, 4.MD.B4, 6.NS.C7a, 6.NS.C5, K-2-ETS1-1, K-2-ETS1-3, 2-PS1-2, MS-PS3-3, MS-PS3-4, 4-PS3-2, MS-ETS1-2, MS-ETS1-3, 3-5-ETS1-2, 3-5-ETS1-3, Fab-Safety.1

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CITC Fab Lab
CITC Fab Lab
Informal educator
We are Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Fabrication Lab. We are based out of Anchorage Alaska serving Alaska Native and American Indian students based in the Anchorage school district. We teach design, building, and fabrication with a cultural emphasis. Our different… Read More


This lesson will cover a method for testing the insulation properties of a given material using water. It discusses how to use a control to compare the properties of the material you are testing.

What You'll Need


  • Sewing kit (or tape/glue)
  • Scissors
  • Liquid thermometers
  • Air thermometer



  • Multiple water tight containers of the same dimensions (they do not need lids)



  • Water
  • Insulation materials

The Instructions

Safety Minute

Safety tips to ensure everyone walks away with increased knowledge and not increased injuries.

Students will be exposed to a cold environment. Limiting the exposure is the key for safety. Possible ways to do this is by limiting the number of thermometers that each student has to read. Pre-teaching thermometer reading can also shorten the time spent outside.


The water all ends up cold so have a plan to ensure that students will not have it spilled/poured on them. Glass thermometers are fragile so observe students when they are engaging with them.

Prepare your insulation

Steps required to get insulation ready to be tested.

Insulation should be created to surround your water container on all sides except for the top. The material can range from testing various snow mittens to building insulations (fiberglass, polystyrene, cellulose, spray foam) to traditional clothing materials (wool, fox fur, beaver fur, sod). This step will vary depending on what materials you use.


Depending on the grade levels, the insulation can be selected and designed in advance, students can design with pre-selected insulation materials, or students can select the materials and design with them.


Tests can be done with different materials or with different thicknesses of materials.


Prepare your containers

This step will ensure your containers are ready to be used.

Containers should be filled with water to the same level. Water should be allowed to sit at room temperature until all containers are at the same temperature. Containers should not have insulation on them at this stage as it can keep the water from reaching the same level. Have one container prepared that will not have insulation. This is your control.


You can also test insulation with different starting temperatures. It is more difficult to ensure that all the hot/cold water is at the same temperature though.


This can be a good time to have students record their hypotheses of what will happen.

Take an initial reading

Take a record of the initial temperatures of each container.

Record the temperature values of all your water containers. Depending on the accuracy of your thermometers there may be a few degrees of variance. Depending on your thermometers you may need to discuss methods for reading them and how to round to the nearest whole degree.


You should also determine if the readings will be in Fahrenheit or in Celsius.

Start the experiment

Put your containers into the cold environment and start the experiment.