Education Technology

Color and Heat

Updated on 01/29/2015

Activity Overview

In this lesson, students will investigate a constant light source falling on a plate of varying colors.


  • Students will explore a simulation of white light falling on a plate attached to a thermometer. As students change the color of the plate, the simulation will record different temperatures as the light energy is transformed into thermal energy - based on the selected wavelength of light chosen.
  • Students will observe the colors of light that are absorbed and reflected and connect these to the rate of the temperature increase of the plate.
  • Students will vary the color of the plate and note differences in the rate of heating, while exploring the ranks of the colors from the fastest to the slowest heaters.
  • Students will quantify the temperature increase over time for the primary and secondary colors as well as white, gray, and black.
  • Students will determine how the secondary colors are formed from a combination of the primary colors.
  • Students will rank the colors based on the collected data and connect to real-world situations.


  • Temperature
  • Reflection
  • Primary Colors - RGB
  • Secondary Colors - CYM
  • Light Energy
  • Color
  • Absorption
  • Color Mixing
  • Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Thermal Energy

About the Lesson

In this lesson, students will investigate a constant light source falling on a plate of varying color. The plate can be colored with the primary (red, green, blue) and the secondary (cyan, yellow, magenta) colors as well as black, gray, and white. As the plate heats, data will be collected in a spreadsheet and displayed on a graph for examination. The students will first explore the simulation and predict the rank of heating for the colors from their past experiences and intuition. They will then examine the data form the heating of the plate of different colors over time, and them rank them again using what they discovered. Students will also explore and verify the combinations of primary colors that form the secondary colors.

The students will explore the ways that different plate colors absorb and reflect energy over time.

As a result, students will:

  • develop the relationship between color and thermal energy.
  • connect the color of a plate and the colors from white light that are reflected.
  • understand that the secondary colors are formed from combinations of the primary colors.
  • apply their knowledge of the heating rates of different colors to real-world applications.