Web-based Student Activities

Thermal Energy

Students should be able to:

  • define temperature as the measure of thermal energy and describe the way it is measured.

How do We Measure Thermal Energy?

Thermal energy is measured using a thermometer. We use thermometers to find the temperature of a substance. Temperature is actually a measure of the substance's thermal energy.

Inside a thermometer is a liquid (most often alcohol) that, when heated, expands and rises through the thermometer. We read this as an increase in temperature. This also indicates an increase in thermal energy. When thermal energy is decreased, the liquid contracts and falls through the thermometer. We read this as a decrease in temperature and thermal energy.

parallel H

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Use this mini-movie on your interactive whiteboard

You can see that as thermal energy rises, so does the temperature. As thermal energy falls, so does the temperature. Remember:

more thermal energy = higer temperature

less thermal energy = lower temperature

Temperature Scales

There are three main scales that the world uses to measure temperature: Fahrenheit (ºF), Celsius (ºC), and the Kelvin Scale (K). We're going to focus on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. Each scale uses different temperatures to measure the boiling point and freezing point of water. Below is a table that shows how the scales differ.

Fahrenheit (ºF)
Celsius (ºC)

Freezing Point


Boiling Point



Avg. Surface Temp. on Earth



Lowest Recorded Temp. on Earth



Highest Recorded Surface Temp. on Earth



*information from wikipedia
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