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Hands On

A historical journey in science

education through role playing
By Smita Guha
In order to ovoid o routine ciassroom environment, teochers often empioy the use of role-ploys.
This is an effective strategy because it is essential for teachers to engage their students with
information through various methods. Role-ploying provides the children with the opportunity
to incorporate muitiple senses into a knowledge-based, fun activity. Students can be creative
in setting up props and using optional music while maintaining the basic theme of the story. By
acting, students who play the roles and the audience in the class will learn something about a
person ond their scientific contribution. Role-play is highly motivating, and it enables students
to put themselves in situations they have never experienced before. It can also help to develop
and improve interpersonal and communication skills.
The following fictitious scenes transport us back in time to conduct an interview with "good ole"
Gabriel Fahrenheit. After a brief visit with him, with the help of the mythical time machine the
scene fast-forwards and we ieap in time to visit with Anders Celsius for a pleasant and informative
conversation. Aithough scenes depicted here are imaginative, the scientific concepts are factual
and could be designed to help teachers teach history of science to students.

Prior to the initiation ot role-play, a science lesson or
laboratory experiment on temperature would greatly
increose the students' concept ot the topic at hand.
Temperature is one ot the common news activities
that children are exposed to, and thermometer is the
only instrument that could be used tor temperature
measurement. It would be interesting as well as
challenging for classroom teochers to get children
work with thermometer related activity os it involves
some glass items, hot water, and the thermometer itself
contoining mercury. Theretore, sincere care must be
taken to ensure satety. It may be possible to use plastics
instead ot glass, a dummy thermometer instead of real
one tor the play activity, and hot water must be used
very discretely and caretully monitored by the teachers
in the classroom.
A simple activity on temperature measurement could
enhance children's knowledge in science. The activity
requires the following supplies; Ice, two uncalibrated
thermometers, one caliiorated thermometer, electric
hot plate, 250 ml glass beaker, marking pen, some
plastic tubes, satety goggles, and water proot apron.
Also, the classroom teacher must explain to the
students thot there are two scoles used tor temperoture
meosurement. The degree Celsius (C) is a unit ot
temperature named for the Swedish astronomer Anders
Celsius. The Celsius temperature scale was designed so
that the treezing point ot water is 0 degrees, ond the
boiling point is 100 degrees at standard atmospheric
pressure. Since there are one hundred steps between
these two reference points, the original term for this
system was Centigrode ( 100 parts). The other scole,
called Fahrenheit, is primarily used in the United States
The degree Fahrenheit (F) is a unit ot temperature
Volume 59 \ Number 3 | September/October 2 0 / 3

named tor the German physicist Gabriel Fahrenheit.

In the Fahrenheit scale ot temperature, the treezing
point ot woter is 32 degrees, and the boiling point is
212 degrees, placing the boiling ond melting points
ot woter 180 degrees apart. Zero degrees Fahrenheit
indicates the lowest temperature Fahrenheit could
obtain by a mixture of ice and salt.
The experiment begins with adding crushed ice to a
250 ml beaker until it is obout 1 /2 tull. Then, place the
uncolibrated thermometer in the ice and observe
it until the fluid stops dropping. At that point, and
without ollowing the liquid to rise, place o mark on the
thermometer. This must be done with greot care.
Next, pour distilled water into the beaker until it is about
1/2 tull. Place the beaker on an electric hot plate ond
bring water to o rapid boil. Place the thermometer in
the boiling liquid and observe the tluid rising. When the
tluid stops rising, ploce the second mark at that point
and label the low mark as zero and the top mark os
100. Through this experiment, students could develop
o temperature scale. Relating to this experiment, the
teacher may ask the students, "How can you mark
or calibrate your thermometer so you can measure
all degrees between the zero and 100 degree point?
Similarly, the students could develop a Fahrenheit
scale using similar methods. Thus two uncalibrated
thermometers could be designed os two seporote
scales ot measurement, Celsius and Fohrenheit, and
equal markings (100 and 180 parts respectively) could
be given to each ot these scales. Students could then
use the calibrated thermometer to ensure validity ot
the markings they had established on the uncaliiroted
Furthermore, the classroom teacher should help
students understand the Celsius-Fahrenheit scale

canversian. Since there are 100 degrees and 180

degrees at measurement in Celsius and Fahrenheit
scale respectively, each degree an the Celsius scale
is equal ta 180/100 ar 9/5 degrees an the Fahrenheit
scale. Ta canvert Celsius temperatures ta Fahrenheit,
students need ta da the following sfeps:
Step 1 :
Step 2:

Multiply the Celsius temperature by 9/5.

Add 32 ta adjust for the offset in fhe
Fahrenheit scale.

Example: convert 37 C to Fahrenheit.

37 X 9/5 = 333/5 = 66.6
66.6 + 32 = 98.6 F
Understanding the conversion scale is important, as
students could better comprehend the temperature
measurement system that varies between the countries.
Atter the science experiment has been completed,
students could help classroom teachers set up the
props for yet another fun-filled role play activity. This
is where the students participate in the drama, and
demonstrate science lessons through playful acfivify.


After more than a decade of arduous

labor, Dr. Smifh has finally perfecfed
her time machine which is capable of
going back in fime. It can go backward
and then forward buf cannof go
into the future. With her wondertui
machine she has arranged to go
back to the time that a great scientific
invention was first made - one fhat
would bring enormous benefits to the
scientific world. She decided to visit
Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius,
inventors of the Fahrenheit and Celsius
This mythical time machine is a great
secret and must be used with supreme
care. Only her colleague and confidanf.
Professor Stacey Ausfin (SA), and
Professor Ausfin's sisfer Catherine Jones
(CJ), know about the machine. They
accompanied Dr. Smith (SG) on this
monumental journey back in time.
They helped her navigate the delicate
machinery. Listen as they arrive in
Heidelberg, Germany at Dr. Fahrenheit's,
who had been expecting them, on a
cold morning in December, 1713.

Dr. Fahrenheit: "Hello everyone! Would you like to have

a freshly brewed cup of tea?"

"Dr. Fahrenheit, would you like me to

help you?"

Dr. Fahrenheit: "Thank you young lady, but let me make

you a perfect brew of tea which needs
accuracy, precise timing and a great
deal of practice. The water for the tea
comes from the development of my
scienfific research. You see, the water
temperature is important and you need
the "Magic Stick" to measure it."

its side. It is actually a 30 ml size hollow

tube with a rubber stopper at the top
end with an air tight fit. He then filled
a medium size flask (about 250 ml size)
with plain water up to 2/3 of ifs volume.
He also added few drops of green food
coloring fo make the water somewhat
visible. Then, as he placed his "Magic
Stick" just below the surface of the
water, we saw water rise up the tubing.

We all saw Dr. Fahrenheit take out a

long (about 12 inches) glass stick, with
three colored markings and several small
markings in black, evenly distributed on


Dr. Fahrenheit: "See the three large markings of red,

yellow and blue. They are the respective
boiling point, zero-point and freezing
point of wafer. The zero-poinf, which is
indicated by a yellow line, is the base
of my sysfem. I found fhat there are 32
degrees between the zero-point and the
freezing point of water. Thus on my scale
water freezes at 32 degrees."

Next, we saw Dr. Fahrenheit pouring

warm water over the flask and fhe wafer
inside fhe tube rising higher and towards
the red marking.

Dr. Fahrenheit: "Thermometers work on the principle ot

expansion and contraction due to the
addition or removal ot heat. In ideal
conditions, as water reaches the boiling
point, it will rise to the red mark on the

"How do you really know that it's the

boiling point of wafer?"

Dr. Fahrenheit: "It's simple! the boiling point is the

opposite of the freezing point. If you
observe fhe markings carefully, you will
see that it shows 32 with blue marking at
one end and 212 with the red marking at
the other end."


"Yes, I see that, but why 212? Is there

any specific reason?"

Dr. Fahrenheit:

"Mathematically speaking, the two

most dissimilar points on a scale are 180
degrees apart. When I say 180 degrees,
I mean the degrees in a straight angle. It
the freezing poinf of water is 32 degrees,
then adding 180 degrees to get the
boiling point of water, comes to 212


"It is really interesting, but what about

the zero-point? How would you explain

Dr. Fahrenheit: "You see, this zero-point is far below the

treezing point of wafer. This is as cold as
it can get, even at the north pole. When
I use the degree spacing that I fixed
between the freezing point and the
zero-point, I have 32 degrees. Let me
show you another simple experiment."

Dr. Fahrenheit put some ice in a glass,

measured its weight and set it aside.
Next, he poured some common salt in
another flask, measured it a couple of
times and then placed it on the table.
He then poured the whole ice-water
mixture from the glass into the flask
containing the salt, and placed his
"Magic Stick" in the tlask.
Volume 59 | Number 3 | September/October 20/3

Har)ds On

"Dr. Fahrenheit, I see the ice melting, so

the temperature must be higher now."

Dr. Fahrenheit: "Oh no! the temperature is well below

the treezing point now."

"But we see the ice melting, so how

is it be possible that the temperature
is lower? Ice melts only when the
temperature gets warmer."

Dr. Fahrenheit: "Compare the temperature level at the

graduated yellow mark, and you will see
how low it is from the blue mark which
is our treezing point. If the temperature
had been warmer, the indicator line
would have been over the blue mark
and moving towards the red mark. This
is a common error that people make.
In reality, when salt causes the ice to
melt, the process absorbs huge amount
ot heat energy, and the temperature
goes down tar below freezing. The
forced melting ot the ice has a cooling
etfect just like evaporation has a cooling



"Wow! This is all new to me. The

concept is quite interesting and it is
really commendable the way you had
patiently worked your experiments and
gave a true form to your theoretical
"Dr. Fahrenheit, thank you tor being a
wondertui host, and we shall remember
this evening and the scientific tea session
After our historic meeting with Dr.
Fahrenheit, the mythical time machine
was re-set to tast forward the years to
1742 tor a visit with the Swedish physicist.
Professor Anders Celsius. It is thirty
minutes past the hour in the morning
and the laboratory supervisor at the
Royal Institute of Physical Sciences
indicafed that Prof. Celsius was ready for
fhe interview.

Prof. Celsius:

"Dear friends! Welcome to the land ot

the midnight sun. You had indicated
in your letter that you had met with Dr.
Fahrenheit atter he invented his scale of
temperature measurement. I am glad
that you are here to learn about my


"We are so pleased to meet you and

hear about your alternative invention to
the Fahrenheit scale."


"Prof. Celsius, may I ask you what made

you to think about an alternative scale
of measurement, when everyone was
content using the Fahrenheit scale?"

Prof. Celsius:

"You know. Dr. Fahrenheit's scale was

certainly useful; we adopted it quite well
in our research experiments and it was
widely used by the common people.
However, there were certain aspects
that made me curious about trying to
design a different temperature scale.
First, the zero-point was not really a fixed

Volume 59 \ Number 3 \ SeptemberlOaober


value, and for a common person it is

ditticult to understand the concept of a
180 degree difference."

"I don't understand your statement

on the zero-point, could you please

Prof. Celsius:

"To be specific. Dr. Fahrenheit

overlooked the tact that in some
countries, the temperature tails below
zero on his scale so they cannot
measure the temperature.


Prof. Fahrenheit arrived at this zero-point

when he mixed equal amounts ot salt
and crushed ice and the temperature
dropped tar below treezing. The lowest
point he could reach became his
zero-point. However, in reality it is not a
fixed point and cannot be consistently
duplicated around the world. Since the
temperature of the ice-salt mixture varies
depending on the size of crushed ice
and the size and type of salt, the zeropoint meant different temperatures in
ditterent places."


"Well now, I understand when you say

that in the Fahrenheit scale, the zeropoint is never a fixed value. But how
do you place your temperature scale
with respect to that? Would you say
that your scale is right and Fahrenheit is

Prof. Celsius:

"No, I wouldn't say that Prot.

Fahrenheit is incorrect, but my scale is
comparatively convenient to use. I took
the freezing point ot pure water as my
reterence point; I call my thermometer,
the Centigrode thermometer because
it is calibrated to show 100 degrees
between the freezing and the boiling


"Now, what about the boiling point?

How would you tell people that the
boiling point is the opposite ot the
treezing point?"

Prof. Celsius:

"I marked my thermometer at the

freezing poinf of pure wafer. Then af the
boiling point of pure water, I marked my
thermometer again. Using the decimal
system, I made 100 marks at equal
distances between these two points.
That is something everyone understands;
so my treezing point of water is 100
degrees and the boiling point is 0


"Don't you mean zero for freezing and

100 for boiling?"

Prof. Celsius:

"No, I mean it as I say!" (very firmly).


"I read that you found out that

Fahrenheit's ice-salt mixture is 18
degrees below 0 on your scale, is that

Prof. Celsius:

"You are absolutely right."


"Do you think, this will set a standard in

temperature measurement."

Prof. Celsius:

"No, nothing is standard, it depends upon

the users and what is appropriate tor
them. I invented this scale becouse I felt
that the Fahrenheit scale had limitations,
so I wanted to develop something
convenient for me and for others."


"Prof. Celsius, we thank you very much

for this opportunity to discuss your new
invention - the "Celsius Degree Scole"
and our sincere wishes for your success."


After the role play activity ends and

students take their seats. Dr. Smith utilize
her time machine once again to set
the time, and they were swiftly and
painlessly brought back to the 21 st
century. Dr. Smith further continues her
class discussion and confirms, "years
after Celsius died, the scale was reversed
to use zero degree for freezing and 100
degrees for boiling. This is the system we
use today. Later on, the name of the
scale was changed from centigrade to
Celsius in honor of its inventor."


This article depicts a 30-minute play during a class
session. An entire class can directly or indirectly
participate in this play. Since, "scientific population"
has been mentioned a couple of times throughout this
role-play article, it may be beneficial to actually create
specific parts for the students to act out the scientific
population and demonstrate the experiment. Another
relatively simple way to create additional characters
is to bring life to animals. The horse pulling carriage
could be played by a student and it would also be
feasible and interesting if some students could even
play the roles of pets of Dr. Fahrenheit and Dr. Celsius.
For example. Dr. Fahrenheit could have a cat that trips
a couple of laboratory items or. Dr. Celsius could have
a parakeet in his lab that repeats some of the words
sparking some humor in the discussion. In order to
incorporate the audience into this activity, it might be a
good idea to have them make costumes tor the actors
and create props for the role-play, such as the mythical
time machine and clippings from newspapers and
scientific journals. In this way, every student will directly
be involved in the production of the role-play.
To generate further interest, these exercises could
be repeated using a calibrated thermometer. Then,
compare it with the marked thermometer.
Atter the science lesson, it may be beneficial to hold a
discussion with the entire class. A potential discussion
topic could be: "How would the worid be different if Dr.
Fahrenheit and
Dr. Celsius never invented their temperature scales?"
This would allow setting up a stage for another
role-playing activity. Although fictitious, students could
explore other possibilities tor measuring temperature.
Again, class discussions could possibly generate some
ideas to construct some experiments followed by role
playing activity. The objective is to nurture science
learning and generate inquisitiveness among children.
Children tend to show greater interest and gain more
knowledge if they are encouraged, and they invest
time and energy into preparing for an activity.
Role-playing, even in fictitious settings as depicted
here (by appropriately using the time machine),
encourages use ot the imagination, and still teaches

tactual information and important scientific concepts. It

is also an excellent tool with which to teach the history
of science to students. After the presentations students
can discuss what they have learned, impressions
gained, pose new questions and otfer suggestions.
Some assessment questions that could be posed trom
this role play activity are:
Locate Gabriel Fahrenheit's country on the map.
Repeat for Anders Celsius's country?
Suppose you were living before Gabriel Fahrenheit
invented his thermometer. Tell someone living in a
different climate zone, as exactly as you can how
hot it is on a hot day during the summer. Compare
this day to the two preceding days. Now do the
same thing using either the Fahrenheit or Celsius
Repeat the same exercise except this time it is very
Suppose you had the privilege of meeting
Fahrenheit and Celsius. What would you tell them?
What would you ask them?
Celsius scale is used in Asia and Europe, so, how
would you convert the temperature from a
Fahrenheit (for example, 85 degrees F) to a Celsius
The article incorporates ditferent curricular areas such
social studies (geography and history), language arts
(through verbal expressions, speaking and listening
skills are enhanced), liberal arts (acting/drama), math
(through mathematical conversion), and physical
science (hands-on and minds-on activity). The
assessment questions would allow students reconstruct
the science lesson they previously learned, full circle
without simply reiterating the same material and also
it would be a good way to test what the students
In order to avoid a routine classroom environment,
teachers often employ the use of role-plays. This is an
effective strategy because it is essential for teachers
to engage their students with information through
various methods. Role-playing provides the children
with the opportunity to incorporate multiple senses
into a knowledge-based, fun activity. Role-playing
gives students an opportunity to practice interacting
with others in certain settings. It helps them cultivate
imogination by portraying the person they represent
in a theatrical set-up. Students can be creative in
setting up props and using optional music to open and
close the various scenes while maintaining the basic
theme of the story. By acting, students who play the
roles and the audience in the class will learn something
about a person and their scientific contribution. Roleplay is highly motivating (Ments, 1994), and it enables
students to put themselves in situations they have never
experienced before. It can also and help to develop
and improve interpersonal and communication skills.

Asimov, Issac. (1982). Fahrenheit. Asimov's Biographical
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. New York: Doubleday
& Company. Inc, pp.159.
Charles, C. G. (editor). (1971). Dictionary of scientific biography.
Voi. IV. American Council of Learned Societies, pp.516-518.
Charles, C. G. (editor). (1971). Dictionary of scientific biography.
yol. III. American Council of Learned Societies, pp. 173-174.
Friedi, E. A. (1986). Teaching Science to Children, (3rd. edition),
McGraw-Hill, Inc.
Volume 59 | Number 3 \ SeptemberlOaober 2013

Harids On
Jones, E.R. (Nov. 1980). Fahrenheit and Celsius, A history. Physics
Teacher, Vol. 18, No.8, pp.594-'95.

Fohrenheit Temperature scale. Retrieved May 1, 2009 trom http://


Ments, M.V. (1994). The Ettective use ot rote-play.

The Celsius Observatory 1741-1852 Retrieved May 1, 2009 trom


Porter, R. (1994). Celsius, Anders, The Biographical Dictionary ot

Scientists, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 222.

History ot the Celsius Temperature Scale. Retrieved May 1, 2009

trom h!ttp://www.astro.uu.se/history/celsius_scale.html
Romer, R. H. (Oct. 1982). Temperature scales: Celsius, Fahrenheit,
Kelvin, Reamur and Romer. Physics Teacher, Vol. 18, No.7, pp. 450-454.
What Marilyn omitted about the Fahrenheit. Thermometer
Retrieved May 1, 2009 trom http://www.wiskif.com/marilyn/
Van der Star, P. ( 1983). Fahrenheit's Letters to Leibniz and
Boerhaave, Amsterdam: Rodopi.

About Temperature. Retrieved May 1, 2009 from
Anders Celsius (1701-1744) Retrieved May 1, 2009 from
(4169) Celsius =1980 FO3 Retrieved May 1, 2009 trom


Smita Guha received her Ph.D. from the State
University of New York af Buffalo. She is an Associafe
Professor at St. John's University in New York.


Scienceweb.asta.edu.au offers fifteen

units of work, all using resources freely available
online and linked to the Australian Curriculum. Covering
topics ranging from 'Changing lands and skies' to 'Our Universe', the
units provide an outline, five lesson plans, student activities and useful
links which teachers can use in the classroom for students in years F-10.

ASTA ScienceWeb webinars

To support teachers in their use ot the ScienceWeb units, ASTA
is providing a weekly webinar series trom August-November. In
these v^ebinars, the teachers who have written the units outline
the rationale behind them, guide participants through the
content, and make suggestions about how they can be used.
The webinars are recorded, and the recordings will be stored
on the ASTA portal tor at least twelve months to provide an
ongoing resource. See moodle.asta.edu.au tor more details.

Volume 59 | Number 3 | SeptemberlOaober 2013


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