Adapted from 5th-8th Grade: Middle School and Physical Science-Sock It To Me

News Flash! Storms catch skiers on mountain! Yesterday, a fast-moving storm with freezing temperatures caught skiers unaware on the ski slopes. A local rescue team required more than 24 hours to get everyone off the mountain and take them to local hospitals for emergency aid. A hospital spokesperson stated that injuries ranged from hypothermia and cold feet to cases of frostbite on toes. All will recover.

How are headlines like this possible? Why did some of the skiers come away cold and some risk injury, including loss of toes?


You have been hired by the local ski resort to investigate what happened and what can be done to prevent injuries. Early information shows almost all the skiers were wearing the same type of boot, but the type and quality of their socks varied a great deal, ranging from nylon stockings to wool ski socks. Could the type of sock make such a huge difference in protecting their feet? How will you test this? We know that heat energy flows or moves from a high concentration to a low concentration, and that our bodies are a high concentration of heat. In the winter, we wear clothes that insulate us and keep the warmth close to our skin. Insulation slows the flow of heat energy into the surrounding environment from our bodies. Cotton, down, nylon, silk, and wool are some of the many materials used in clothing. But not all of them insulate the same.


In this experiment, you will:



Bodelin ProScope with 50X lens  Bodelin software  

Vernier Temperature Probe  

Vernier Logger Lite software  

One glass or plastic bottle

One one-hole stopper  

Two wool socks, two nylon socks, and two cotton socks  

Hot water from faucet (40–50o C)

Room temperature water


1. In your science journal, write down which sock you think will be the best insulator and explain why.

2. Obtain and wear goggles.

3. Prepare the iPad to connect to the ProScope:

Turn the ProScope over to the bottom and notice two numbers: AirMicro # and IP Address #.

Go to SETTINGS on the iPad. Select WIFI, and next select the Air Micro #(the number on the bottom of your ProScope).

Once a check appears beside this wifi, click the blue “greater than” sign to set up the IP Address.

Click on Static and type in the IP Address found on the bottom of your ProScope (example:  

Next type in the Subnet Mask : 

The iPad automatically saves the information. Touch the home button, and scroll to find the AirMicroPad app. Open the app, and the iPad will find the ProScope.

Touch the tip of the ProScope lens to each type of fabric to create an image. Adjust the ProScope to get a clear image. On the data sheet, describe what you see for each sock. Based on what you observe, modify your hypothesis if necessary.

4. Prepare the computer to collect temperature data:

Connect the Temperature Probe to the LabQuest Pro2.

Select Mode.  Choose Time Based. Change Rate: 1. Change Interval: 1. Change Duration: 200 s.

Click OK.

5. Obtain a bottle and a one-hole stopper to perform the first data run.

Note: Steps 5 and 6 must be performed quickly for good results.

a  Fill the bottle up to the neck of the bottle with hot water.

b  Insert the rubber stopper tightly into the bottle, then insert the Temperature Probe into the hole in the stopper.

c  Use a paper towel to dry the outside of the bottle.

6. Collect your first data run:

a  Click the Play button to begin data collection (triangle in bottom left corner  ). Data collection will last for  200 seconds.

b  When data collection ends, a graph will display the data. The screens are touch-sensitive. As you move the pointer across the graph, the temperature and time values are displayed in the Examine box (right side of the screen).

c  Move the pointer around the graph until you find the maximum and minimum temperatures. Record the maximum and minimum temperatures in the data table as your control data. You can use the buttons below the graph.

d  To view a table of the data, click the X/Y “T” chart icon. You can find the maximum and minimum temperatures here as well.

e  Store this run by clicking the Store button . To find this button you need to view the graph. The Store button is the filing cabinet in the top right corner.

7.  Remove the one-hole stopper and Temperature Probe from the bottle. Refill the bottle with hot water and replace the Temperature Probe into the bottle. This time place your bottle in one of the socks. Make sure to cover as much of the bottle as possible. As soon as you have the bottle in the sock, repeat Step 6, only this time record your ending temperature as your first experimental data run.

8.  Repeat Step 6 for the other socks. Make sure to record your data at the completion of each of the experimental runs.

9.  For the wet sock trials, wet each of the socks with water and wring the excess water from the sock. Examine each sock with the ProScope for changes in the material. Record an image for each sock. Make sure you identify each of your images. All of your photos are stored on the iPad.

10.  If time permits, repeat Step6, placing the bottle in the different wet socks. Record your data.

Image From ProScope

(Can be pasted, drawn, or inserted in an electronic document)

Maximum Temperature

Minimum Temperature



(Max – Min)


Wool Sock




Wet Wool Sock




Cotton Sock




Wet Cotton Sock




Nylon Sock




Wet Nylon Sock




Data Sheet

Analyzing your data

  1. In the space provided in the data table, subtract the minimum temperature from the maximum temperature to find the temperature change.

  1. Compare the insulation abilities of wool, nylon, and cotton. Which one insulates the best?

  1. Discuss the differences you can see in your ProScope examination of each sock.

  1. Discuss why and how each material slows the transfer of heat.

  1. What happened to the temperature of the water in the bottle covered with the wet sock? Explain this effect.

  1. What do the results of this experiment suggest about wet clothing in cold weather?

  1. What was the purpose of the uncovered bottle in this experiment?

Teacher Guide:

This experiment is designed to promote student observation, questioning, and presenting possible explanations. One of the first activities you can do is provide a simple demonstration of heat being lost from hot water to the surrounding environment. The identification of the problem can be something that students have observed or experienced themselves. In this experiment, allow students to form their own questions as part of the investigation and develop possible explanations or hypotheses. Here is an example of a question and hypothesis:

Question: Which sock material will be the best insulator?

Hypothesis: The sock that has a fabric that creates the greatest amount of trapped air (has the most air space) will be the best insulator.

Science concepts:

Transfer of energy and the flow of energy are difficult concepts for students because of the lack of visual and manipulative materials. This experiment provides both aspects and allows students to study basic concepts of energy. The basic principle of the experiment is that the construction of socks with various materials traps air next to the skin. The heat from the skin heats the air trapped in the sock material. This provides a buffer against the cold air of the surrounding environment. This is very effective when there is little exchange of air with the environment.

Different materials or fabrics have different structures, which can be seen under the ProScope. Generally, the more air trapped and the less air exchanged with the environment, the better the insulation property of the material. When the material is wet, two processes are at work. First, the amount of water in direct contact with the skin requires more heat from the body to come to equilibrium. Second, in the air, the water evaporates and acts as a cooling agent on the bottle, much like wet canvas cloths on old metal canteens. In very wet situations, the constant exchange of water next to the skin rapidly removes heat and lowers body temperatures quickly.

The second law of thermodynamics states that wherever there is any kind of energy, that energy (if it is not hindered from doing so) must flow away from the energy source into the universe. Once this energy is lost, the reverse action—energy flowing back into the object on its own—can never happen. That is, if two objects are placed in thermal contact with each other, heat from the warmer object flows into the cooler one. Heat energy never flows from the cooler object to the warmer object. The law also states that a system with more energy than its environment will always try to come to equilibrium with its surroundings. This is also known as the law of entropy. This experiment provides a physical activity that demonstrates that principle.

Facilitation tips:

The experiment is rather simple, but can be time consuming with a single Temperature Probe. If you have several probes, direct comparisons can be made, cutting down on the number of runs. With a single probe, the experiment can be run in one period. The analysis and creation of the presentation will take one additional period. The following strategies may help with the time issue.

  1. The instructor sets up the control bottle#1 in the front of the room and projects or records the control temperature for the lab. This strategy cuts down on the required equipment. Each group will only need one bottle and one probe.  
  2. Divide the class into three groups and have each group test only one fabric for its insulating properties. Record and project the results so all the groups can share the data.
  3. For the wet trials, the instructor can set up the control bottles in the front of the room and share the data. The students will only have to record data for their wet bottle.

Expected outcomes:

Since the wool sock has excellent loft compared to the other fabrics, it should provide the best heat retention. Cotton would be next, followed by nylon. In addition to the material, the type of weave and the thickness of the fibers are variables that affect the outcomes. The project is designed to demonstrate these properties.


Students have four separate complete sets of data to collect:

• Dry sock cooling rate and change of temperature  • Dry sock ProScope images  • Wet sock cooling rate and change of temperature  • Wet sock ProScope images

Sample results

Answers to analyzing your data questions

  1. Answers will be based on data and calculations.
  2. Generally, students should conclude that wool is the best insulator.
  3. In the ProScope examination, the wool fiber should look rather loose with many tiny spaces. Nylon would have the most amount of air space visible because of the smooth construction of the synthetic fiber. Cotton would have a tighter weave than nylon, but include looser fibers than wool.
  4. Each material has a different structure. These differences allow each material to be more or less efficient at trapping and exchanging air with the surrounding environment. Generally, the more air that is trapped by a material and provides the least loss to the environment is the best insulator.
  5. The temperature lowers.
  6. In really cold weather, water evaporates less, but is denser than the surrounding air. In this case, the water acts as an insulator against really cold air. This principle is seen in the winter when citrus trees are spread with water to prevent the freezing of the fruit on a tree. The ice prevents the fruit from coming in contact with the frigid air. When the environment is much warmer, the water evaporates and draws heat away from the bottle, lowering the temperature quickly.
  7. The uncovered bottle provides control data for the experiment.

Science standards alignment

This experiment provides direct alignment to national standards by allowing students to actually see and measure heat energy transfer. The design of the experiment also emphasizes alignment with measurement, inquiry, and investigative standards by having students use technology to practice and gain insight into these skills.

Next Generation Science Standards - Disciplinary Core Ideas:

5-PS1: Matter and Its Interactions

5-PS1-2: Measure and graph quantities to provide evidence that regardless of the type of change that occurs when heating, cooling, or mixing substances, the total weight of matter is conserved.

5-PS1-3: Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.

MS-PS1-4: Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.

Common Core State Standards:



Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. (5-PS1-2), (5-PS1-3)


Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources. (5-PS1-2), (5-PS1-3)


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

(5-PS1-2), (5-PS1-3)


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions (MS-PS1-4)


Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks. (MS-PS1-4)


Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table). (MS-PS1-4)


Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration. (MS-PS1-4)



Reason abstractly and quantitatively. (5-PS1-2), (5-PS1-3), (MS-PS1-4)


Model with mathematics. (5-PS1-2), (5-PS1-3), (MS-PS1-4)


Use appropriate tools strategically. (5-PS1-2), (5-PS1-3), (MS-PS1-4)


Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real-world problems. (5-PS1-2)


Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems.  (MS-PS1-4)


Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, credits/debits, positive/negative electric charge); use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts, explaining the meaning of 0 in each situation. (MS-PS1-4)


Use numbers expressed in the form of a single digit times an integer power of 10 to estimate very large or very small quantities, and to express how many times as much one is than the other.  (MS-PS1-4)


Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots. (MS-PS1-4)


Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context.  (MS-PS1-4)

Arkansas Framework:


NS.1.4.1, NS.1.5.1, NS.1.6.1, NS.1.7.1, NS.18.1: Communicate observations orally, in writing, and in graphic organizers: T-charts, pictographs, Venn diagrams, bar graphs, frequency tables, line graphs

NS.1.4.3. NS.1.5.3, NS.1.6.3, NS.1.7.3, NS.18.3: Conduct scientific investigations individually and in teams

NS.1.4.5, NS.1.5.5, NS.1.6.5, NS.1.7.5, NS.18.5: Communicate the designs, procedures, and results of scientific investigations (e.g., age-appropriate graphs, charts, and writings)

NS.1.4.6, NS.1.5.6, NS.1.6.6, NS.1.7.6, NS.18.6: Estimate and measure length, mass, temperature, capacity/volume, and elapsed time using International System of Units (SI)

NS.1.4.7, NS.1.5.7, NS.1.6.7, NS.1.7.7, NS.18.7: Collect and interpret measurable empirical evidence in teams and as individuals

NS.1.4.8, NS.1.5.8, NS.1.6.8, NS.1.7.8, NS.18.8: Develop a hypothesis based on prior knowledge and observations

NS.1.4.9, NS.1.5.9, NS.1.6.9, NS.1.7.9, NS.18.9: Identify variables that affect investigations

NS.1.4.10, NS.1.5.10, NS.1.6.10, NS.1.7.10, NS.18.10: Identify patterns and trends in data  

NS.1.4.11, NS.1.5.11, NS.1.6.11, NS.1.7.11, NS.18.11: Generate conclusions based on evidence  

NS.1.4.13, NS.1.5.13, NS.1.6.13, NS.1.7.13, NS.18.13: Use simple equipment, age appropriate tools, technology, and mathematics in scientific investigations (e.g., balances, hand lenses, microscopes, rulers, thermometers, calculators, computers)  

PS.7.4.1: Interpret trends in temperature over time using the Celsius scale

PS.7.6.4: Investigate the transfer of energy in real world situations: conduction, convection, radiation

National Educational Technology Standards. (ISTE)

Standards Categories  

(2) Communication and Collaboration

a. Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media

b. Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats

d. Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems

( 3) Research and Information Fluency  

b. Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.

d. Process data and report results

(4) Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making  

a. Identify and define authentic problems and signification questions for investigation

c. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions

( 6) Technology Operations and Concepts

a. Understand and use technology systems

b. Select and use applications effectively and productively

c. Troubleshoot systems and applications

Learn more

If you enjoyed this hands-on science experiment, learn more about the Science CSI Kit and additional curriculum lessons that can be used for concentrated science investigations at: 

Special thanks

This experiment was written by Dr. Bruce Ahlborn, Technology Coordinator of the Northbrook School District, Northbrook, IL, and edited by Bruce Payne, Apple Professional Development consultant.

©2005 Apple Computer, Inc. All rights reserved. For classroom use only

Lesson adapted for 2013 UALRTeach Mentor Teacher Training by Michelle Brand Buchanan.