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How can 0, 32, and 273 degrees all be freezing points of water? Build Nelson the Robot to discover the conventional scales we use to measure temperature and even invent your own!

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Thermbot: Build-A-Bot is a digital science simulation game in which students assemble Nelson the Robot and experiment with Nelson’s built-in thermometer to learn about how thermal energy, temperature, and measurement are related. Students discover that temperature scales are man-made measurement systems defined by "anchors" (a temperature that consistently triggers a phenomenon, e.g. freezing point/ boiling point of water). With this knowledge in mind, students author their own anchors and author their own temperature scales in "Robot" degrees and compare them with the traditional temperature scales (Celsius, Fahrenheit, Kelvin), using a linear graph and the conversion equations. 


The game is divided into three parts: a) putting Nelson together and walking through a series of interactive information bubbles, b) inserting coins (that represent objects with a specific temperature) into Nelson to observe and predict to what point the mercury will rise and fall, and c) creating a new temperature scale in "Robot" degrees. Creating a new scale involves selecting coins (e.g. the hot burrito coin) to represent high and low anchor points. Once numerical values are assigned to both anchors, the game generates the values for the entire thermometer. Students can then compare their scales with commonly used temperature scales (Celsius, Fahrenheit, Kelvin) by using the provided conversion equations and/or the linear graph (recommended for high school students).


Thermbot: Build-A-Bot can be effective as a stand-alone experience, but it is best used with a facilitator guiding students and asking the right questions (especially when teaching about the rather abstract concept of anchors). If adequately facilitated, in addition to coming away with an understanding of how thermal energy, temperature, and measurement are related, students should also gain the insight that measurement is a convention defined by arbitrary yet practical specifications. The value of this insight is that it is true of all measurement, and therefore should lead students to apply this concept to distance, weight, and time conventions. 

Thermbot breakdown

Ease of Use:
Thermbot: Build-A-Bot requires a mouse or trackpad to click and drag various indicators and items.
The teacher should have an understanding of thermal energy, states of matter, how and why temperature scales differ, and how a thermometer works. 


Click and drag mouse controls. Left click on indicators and drag coins into Nelson’s slots.

Game Mechanics:

While, as noted above, there are a few different parts to the game (putting Nelson together, clicking through info bubbles, slider challenge, comparing to other temperature scales, etc.), the main activity involves dragging different temperature coins into Nelson’s slot in order to test them. Once a coin is inserted, the mercury in the thermometer rises or falls and the molecules in the molecular viewer (a zoomed-in view of the mercury) vibrate faster or slower depending on the temperature change. To test a new coin, simply eject the old one and insert a new one. By testing a variety of objects, players can observe how temperature affects the level of the mercury as well as the movement of molecules within the thermometer.

When prompted to create a customized temperature scale in "Robot degrees," two new slots appear alongside the testing slot: the high anchor slot and the low anchor slot. Inserting a coin into the high slot will place it on the thermometer and require the user to enter a numerical value. Once the same is done for the low anchor slot, the game generates the values for the entire thermometer. The number range of the thermometer is dependent on which coins are chosen as the high and low anchor and on what numbers they are assigned. Afterward, the player can click on the other existing scales (e.g. Celsius) and compare the ranges.


*Note: If one wanted to compare the conventional temperature scales (F,C,K) with each other, it is possible to create each one of them. Simply select "boiling water" as the high anchor and "melting ice" as the low anchor. To create the Fahrenheit scale, enter 32 for the low and 212 for the high. To create the Celsius scale, enter 0 degrees for the low and 100 degrees for the high. To create the Kelvin scale, enter 273 degrees for the low and 373 for the high.

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