Keep/Melt a Cube

Learning Objectives

Students apply the concepts of conduction, convection, and radiation as they work in teams to solve two problems. One problem requires that they maintain the cold temperature of one ice cube as long as possible, and the other problem is to cause a second ice cube to melt as quickly as possible. Students design their solutions using only common everyday materials.

Associated Curriculum Topic

Heat in the Environment


The only required material for this activity is a bag of ice cubes. The materials listed below are suggestions of things students can use.

  • cardboard
  • scissors
  • construction paper
  • glue sticks
  • newspaper
  • cotton balls
  • aluminum foil
  • plastic bottles
  • elastic Bands
  • Styrofoam cups, Styrofoam peanuts, …
  • plastic cups
  • scraps of fabric
  • bubble wrap
  • etc.


When a contractor is building a house he/she usually will use some type of insulation between the inside and outside of the house. This insulation is designed to keep the cold out in the winter and the heat out in the summer. Therefore there is a very important balance between too much insulation and not enough insulation. In this activity students will design their own structures that will either keep the heat of the classroom away from their ice cube or utilize the heat of the surroundings to melt their ice cube. The thermal energy in the classroom will deliver some energy to the water molecules of the ice cube, allowing them to move faster, which ultimately causes the ice cube to melt. It will be a challenge for the students to determine which materials are better at insulating the ice cube from the surrounding thermal energy and which are better at conducting the surrounding thermal energy.


  • Provide the students with a list of available materials and allow them 15 to 20 minutes for planning and construction.
  • Once the ice cubes are placed in the structures, keep one “control” ice cube out on the table so that students can judge how well they did compared to room temperature melting conditions.

Investigating Questions

  • What materials were better for insulating the ice cube? Why?
  • What materials melted the ice cube the fastest? Why?
  • Should the ice cube be completely covered from its surroundings? Why/why not?
  • Who might use some of the concepts from this activity in their everyday life?

Adapted from Teach Engineering

File attachments

File Keep a Cube - Worksheet14.47 KB