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Polystyrene Containers Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #: AELP-ENG001
Author: John Cowens; Greenwood Elementary, La Grande, OR 97850 Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


  • Science/Engineering

OVERVIEW: Have you ever wondered about all those polystyrene containers the modern hamburger comes in? Do they really work? How much do they add to the cost of your burger? What happens to them after you throw them away? The following activity should stimulate some interest in these high-tech, disposable, containers.

OBJECTIVES: As a result of this activity, students will be able to:

  • Design and carry-out an experiment to test the heat retaining effectiveness of burger containers.
  • Collect data in the experiment and answer the following questions: (a) What is the rate of heat loss of each type of container?
    (b) Will doubling the container reduce the rate of heat loss by 1/2 ?

  • Several brands and types of polystyrene burger containers.
  • Thermometers
  • Heat source to heat water to near boiling
  • Containers for water

  • Exhibit several types of containers in front of the students.
  • Ask students what the function(s) of the containers are.
  • Ask students if they KNOW whether or not they really work. Instruct them to show proof.
  • Ask students to design experiments to prove how effective these containers are at preventing heat loss.
  • Carry-out experiments: Have the students report their data on a large class data chart. Class data can be analyzed determining the mean, median, mode, and range.
  • Ask students to graph the data. On one line, graph the temperature vs. time (which would show directly the heat loss rate comparisons.
  • State conclusions, answers to your original questions.
  • Post Lab Questions:

  • How effective do the containers retain heat? Compare results with your control.
  • Which container retains heat the best?
  • What effect does doubling or tripling the container have on the rate of heat loss?
  • Extensions: Discuss and/or research the following questions:

  • What are the containers made of?
  • How are they made?
  • How much do they cost?
  • Are there any hazards or detriments to the environment caused by manufacture, use, or disposal of these types of containers?
  • Can you design a better container?

  • May 1994 These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.