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A historical journey in science education through role playing.

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. 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 and their scientific contribution. Role-play is highly motivating, and it enables students to put themselves in situations they have never experienced before. If 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 leap in time to visit with Anders Celsius for a pleasant and informative conversation. Although 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 of role-play, a science lesson or laboratory experiment on temperature would greatly increase the students' concept of the topic at hand. Temperature is one of the common news activities that children are exposed to, and thermometer is the only instrument that could be used for temperature measurement. It would be interesting as well as challenging for classroom teachers to get children work with thermometer related activity as it involves some glass items, hot water, and the thermometer itself containing mercury. Therefore, sincere care must be taken to ensure safety. It may be possible to use plastics instead of glass, a dummy thermometer instead of real one for the play activity, and hot water must be used very discretely and carefully 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 calibrated thermometer, electric hot plate, 250 ml glass beaker, marking pen, some plastic tubes, safety goggles, and water proof apron.

Also, the classroom teacher must explain to the students that there are two scales used for temperature measurement. The degree Celsius ([degrees]C) is a unit of temperature named for the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius. The Celsius temperature scale was designed so that the freezing point of water is 0 degrees, and 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 Centigrade (100 parts). The other scale, called Fahrenheit, is primarily used in the United States The degree Fahrenheit ([degrees]F) is a unit of temperature named for the German physicist Gabriel Fahrenheit. In the Fahrenheit scale of temperature, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees, and the boiling point is 212 degrees, placing the boiling and melting points of water 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 about 1/2 full. Then, place the uncalibrated thermometer in the ice and observe it until the fluid stops dropping. At that point, and without allowing the liquid to rise, place a mark on the thermometer. This must be done with great care.

Next, pour distilled water into the beaker until it is about 1/2 full. Place the beaker on an electric hot plate and bring water to a rapid boil. Place the thermometer in the boiling liquid and observe the fluid rising. When the fluid stops rising, place the second mark at that point and label the low mark as zero and the top mark as 100. Through this experiment, students could develop a 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 as two separate scales of measurement, Celsius and Fahrenheit, and equal markings (100 and 180 parts respectively) could be given to each of these scales. Students could then use the calibrated thermometer to ensure validity of the markings they had established on the uncalibrated thermometers.

Furthermore, the classroom teacher should help students understand the Celsius-Fahrenheit scale conversion. Since there are 100 degrees and 180 degrees of measurement in Celsius and Fahrenheit scale respectively, each degree on the Celsius scale is equal to 180/100 or 9/5 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale. To convert Celsius temperatures to Fahrenheit, students need to do the following steps:

Step 1: Multiply the Celsius temperature by 9/5.

Step 2: Add 32[degrees] to adjust for the offset in the Fahrenheit scale.

Example: convert 37[degrees]C to Fahrenheit. 37 x 9/5 = 333/5 = 66.6 66.6 + 32 = 98.6[degrees]F

Understanding the conversion scale is important, as students could better comprehend the temperature measurement system that varies between the countries.

After 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 activity.


Narrator: After more than a decade of arduous labor, Dr. Smith has finally perfected her time machine which is capable of going back in time. It can go backward and then forward but cannot go into the future. With her wonderful machine she has arranged to go back to the time that a great scientific invention was first made--one that would bring enormous benefits to the scientific world. She decided to visit Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius, inventors of the Fahrenheit and Celsius thermometers.

This mythical time machine is a great secret and must be used with supreme care. Only her colleague and confidant, Professor Stacey Austin (SA), and Professor Austin's sister 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?"

SG: "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 scientific research. You see, the water temperature is important and you need the "Magic Stick" to measure it."

Narrator: 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 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 its volume. He also added few drops of green food coloring to 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.

Dr. Fahrenheit: "See the three large markings of red, yellow and blue. They are the respective boiling point, zero-point and freezing point of water. The zero-point, which is indicated by a yellow line, is the base of my system. I found that there are 32 degrees between the zero-point and the freezing point of water. Thus on my scale water freezes at 32 degrees."

Narrator: Next, we saw Dr. Fahrenheit pouring warm water over the flask and the water inside the tube rising higher and towards the red marking.

Dr. Fahrenheit: "Thermometers work on the principle of expansion and contraction due to the addition or removal of heat. In ideal conditions, as water reaches the boiling point, it will rise to the red mark on the tube."

CJ: "How do you really know that it's the boiling point of water?"

Dr. Fahrenheit: "It's simpl& the boiling point is the opposite of the freezing point. If you observe the 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."

CJ: "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. If the freezing point of water is 32 degrees, then adding 180 degrees to get the boiling point of water, comes to 212 degrees."

SG: "It is really interesting, but what about the zero-point? How would you explain that?"

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

Narrator: 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 flask.

SA: "Dr. Fahrenheit, I see the ice melting, so the temperature must be higher now."

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

CJ: "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 freezing 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 of heat energy, and the temperature goes down far below freezing. The forced melting of the ice has a cooling effect just like evaporation has a cooling effect."

SA: "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 concept."

SG: "Dr. Fahrenheit, thank you for being a wonderful host, and we shall remember this evening and the scientific tea session forever."

Narrator: After our historic meeting with Dr. Fahrenheit, the mythical time machine was re-set to fast forward the years to 1742 for 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 indicated that Prof. Celsius was ready for the interview.

Prof. Celsius: "Dear friends! Welcome to the land of the midnight sun. You had indicated in your letter that you had met with Dr. Fahrenheit after he invented his scale of temperature measurement. I am glad that you are here to learn about my invention."

SG: "We are so pleased to meet you and hear about your alternative invention to the Fahrenheit scale."

CJ: "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

value, and for a common person it is difficult to understand the concept of a 180 degree difference."

SA: "I don't understand your statement on the zero-point, could you please explain?"

Prof. Celsius: "To be specific, Dr. Fahrenheit overlooked the tact that in some countries, the temperature falls below zero on his scale so they cannot measure the temperature.

Narrator: Prof. Fahrenheit arrived at this zero-point when he mixed equal amounts of salt and crushed ice and the temperature dropped far below freezing. 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 zero-point meant different temperatures in different places."

CJ: "Well now, I understand when you say that in the Fahrenheit scale, the zero-point 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 wrong?"

Prof. Celsius: "No, I wouldn't say that Prof" Fahrenheit is incorrect, but my scale is comparatively convenient to use. I took the freezing point of pure water as my reference point; I call my thermometer, the Centigrade thermometer because it is calibrated to show 100 degrees between the freezing and the boiling point."

SG: "Now, what about the boiling point? How would you tell people that the boiling point is the opposite of the freezing point?"

Prof. Celsius: "I marked my thermometer at the freezing point of pure water. Then at 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 freezing point of water is 100 degrees and the boiling point is 0 degree."

SA: "Don't you mean zero for freezing and 100 for boiling?"

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

CJ: "I read that you found out that Fahrenheit's ice-salt mixture is 18 degrees below 0 on your scale, is that correct?"

Prof. Celsius: "You are absolutely right."

SA: "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 for them. I invented this scale because I felt that the Fahrenheit scale had limitations, so I wanted to develop something convenient for me and for others."

SG: "Prof. Celsius, we thank you very much for this opportunity to discuss your new invention-the "Celsius Degree Scale" and our sincere wishes for your success."

Narrator: 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 21st 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 for 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.

After the science lesson, it may be beneficial to hold a discussion with the entire class. A potential discussion topic could be: "How would the world 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 for 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 of the imagination, and still teaches factual 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 offer suggestions. Some assessment questions that could be posed from 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 scale;

* Repeat the same exercise except this time it is very cold;

* 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 scale?

The article incorporates different 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 learned.

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 imagination 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. Role-play 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, lssac. (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. Vol. IV. American Council of Learned Societies, pp.516-518.

Charles, C. G. (editor). (1971). Dictionary of scientific biography. Vol. III. American Council of Learned Societies, pp. 173-174.

Friedl, E. A. (1986). Teaching Science to Children, (3rd. edition), McGraw-Hill, Inc.

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

Ments, M.V. (1994). The Effective use of role-play.

Porter, R. (1994). Celsius, Anders, The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 222.

Romer, R. H. (Oct. 1982). Temperature scales: Celsius, Fahrenheit, Kelvin, Reamur and Romer. Physics Teacher Vol. 18, No.7, pp. 450-454.

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 F03 Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Fahrenheit Temperature scale. Retrieved May 1, 2009 from http://

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

History of the Celsius Temperature Scale. Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

What Marilyn omitted about the Fahrenheit. Thermometer Retrieved May 1, 2009 from


Smita Guha received her Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is an Associate Professor at St. John's University in New York.
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Author:Guha, Smita
Publication:Teaching Science
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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