Teacher Preparation > Resource Collections > Teaching Activities > Density, Buoyancy and Convection

Density, Buoyancy and Convection

Developed by Ann Bykerk-Kauffman . Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, California State University, Chico

Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from a review and suggestion process as a part of an activity development workshop.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process as a part of an activity development workshop. Workshop participants were provided with a set of criteria against which they evaluated each others' activities. For information about the criteria used for this review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/teacherprep/workshops/workshop07/activityreview.html.

This page first made public: May 2, 2007


In this Earth Science lab, students observe the process of convection and then discover how and why it works through a series of hands-on activities in which they explore and build the various concepts that they need to understand in order to fully construct an understanding of the process of convection. The lab activity culminates in the construction of a concept map to explain how and why convection occurs.

Learn more about the course for which this activity was developed.

Learning Goals

Students should learn the concepts of density, buoyancy, thermal expansion and contraction, and convection. Students' skills of observation and construction of conceptual knowledge are developed by this activity.

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for any educational level from 4th grade on up. It is a hands-on lab activity that can be completed in three hours. All equipment and materials can be readily obtained in hardware and grocery stores. No prerequisite knowledge is required. The activity is situated toward the beginning of my course in Earth and Space sciences but could be used at any time. Since convection is such a powerful concept in the Earth and Space sciences, this lab activity can be built on and referred back to over and over again.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This lab takes about three hours to complete. The "Lab Choreography" link below provides a detailed description of how we present and facilitate the lab.

Teaching Materials

Assignment Handout (Acrobat (PDF) 49kB Apr16 07)
Lab Choreography (Acrobat (PDF) 10kB Apr16 07)
List of materials needed (Acrobat (PDF) 8kB Apr16 07)


Each lab table is assigned to present their answers to the questions about one of the activities to the rest of the class, using overhead transparencies for illustration. A whole-class discussion follows each presentation.

Students are asked to figure out how a Galilean thermometer and a lava lamp work, using concepts learned in this activity.

Students construct concept maps of the convection process.

References and Resources

Here are some convection-related online resources that you might find useful:

A lesson on upwelling ocean currents for grades 6-8

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Physics, Geoscience:Geology:Geophysics
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Earth System Topics: Solid Earth
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geophysics

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