About the Cool Surfaces Lesson Plan

The CRRC Cool Surfaces Lesson Plan is a collection of resources for teaching middle school/junior high-level students about the urban heat island effect and highly solar-reflective “cool” building surfaces. The coursework covers the causes and characteristics of the urban heat island (UHI) effect, the basic principles of surface radiative properties (solar reflectance and thermal emittance), and the impacts that cool roofs and exterior walls can have on urban heat and energy use.

Heat is a growing concern in many communities, and it is important for younger generations to understand the science behind heat islands and the tools that are available to help mitigate them. The concepts taught in this lesson plan are tailored for middle school-level comprehension and include engaging materials designed to promote thoughtful conversation. These resources can also be adapted for use in other grade levels and in many types of learning environments.

We want to encourage classrooms to get involved by submitting a project for the CRRC Student Competition after completing the Cool Surfaces Lesson Plan. We want to see what students have learned and hear their creative ideas! Get the details here!

Finally, we want to make it easy for all classrooms to participate, so we offer several opportunities for participants to receive support from the CRRC community. These include opportunities for assistance obtaining the materials required for the Cool Surfaces Experiment, as well as access to subject matter experts for questions, guest lectures, and technical review of student projects.

If you use the Cool Surfaces Lesson Plan in your classroom, please complete our short feedback form.

Teacher Guide

The Teacher Guide is a supplemental resource for teachers to be used in conjunction with the Cool Surfaces Lesson Plan materials. The Teacher Guide contains the lesson plan learning objectives; a summary of each of the lesson plan resources; a glossary of terms; elaboration on concepts described in the animated videos; ideas for modifying the Cool Surfaces Experiment; opportunities for support from the CRRC community; links to sources and additional resources; and CRRC contact information.

Animated Videos

The below videos provide core instruction on the topics of urban heat islands, surface radiative properties, and cool roofs and cool exterior walls. Students should watch the videos prior to completing the rest of the lesson plan activities. The videos are broken down into three segments to allow for classroom discussion after each segment. All three segments can also be viewed as one video here.

To view the video on YouTube or watch in full screen, click the YouTube logo at the bottom right of the video.

The Urban Heat Island Effect (Cool Surfaces Video Part 1)


Surface Radiative Properties (Cool Surfaces Video Part 2)


Cool Roofs and Walls (Cool Surfaces Video Part 3)

Cool Surfaces Experiment

The Cool Surfaces Experiment guides students in creating “buildings” out of cardboard boxes and observing the effect of different exterior surfaces on the air temperature inside the boxes when placed under infrared heat lamps simulating direct sunlight. The experiment compares white and black surfaces, but ideas for potential modifications to the experiment can be found in the Teacher Guide. Download the written experiment instructions or watch the video tutorial below.

Cool Surfaces Experiment Tutorial

Cool Surfaces Worksheet

The Cool Surfaces Worksheet is a supplemental material containing short-answer, multiple choice, and true/false questions. It is intended to reinforce the information learned from the animated videos and Cool Surfaces Experiment. The worksheet can be completed as homework or an in-class activity.

The worksheet is available for download as a PDF with a separate Answer Key and as a Word document so that the questions can be modified if desired. Please note that the Answer Key on page 3 of the Word version should be removed prior to distribution to students.

Student Competition

Students who have completed the Cool Surfaces Lesson Plan have an opportunity as a class, small group, or individual student to submit a project for the CRRC Student Competition. The competition is a chance for students to encapsulate what they have learned into a creative project and have their work featured on the CRRC website. The project can be as large or small as desired and can even be as simple as an essay of lessons learned. However, we encourage students to let their imagination take the stage and get creative with their submissions!

If your students wish to participate, they must review the Student Competition Guidelines below and complete the required Competition Submission Form and Publication Permission Form. The CRRC also offers opportunities for students to receive optional technical review of science fair or other larger projects related to cool surfaces.

Student Competition Guidelines

Opportunities for Support

If your classroom would benefit from financial support to purchase the necessary materials and equipment to complete the Cool Surfaces Experiment, please fill out the form below. The CRRC is able to provide a limited amount of financial support to teachers thanks to donations from our generous stakeholders. We cannot guarantee that support will be provided, but we will strive to meet your request.

If your classroom would benefit from in-kind donations of materials to expand the scope of the Cool Surfaces Experiment (e.g., infrared reflective roofing or wall materials), please fill out the form below. The CRRC cannot not guarantee that support will be provided, but we will strive to match you with a sponsor from the CRRC community to provide the requested donations.

If you are interested in having a subject matter expert from the CRRC community visit your classroom in-person or virtually to provide a guest lecture, please fill out the form below. The CRRC cannot not guarantee that a volunteer will be available, but we will strive to match you with a volunteer from the CRRC community.

Finally, if a student would like to receive technical review of a project related to cool surfaces, the CRRC will strive to match them with a subject matter expert to perform technical review and provide constructive feedback. If the student is participating in the CRRC Competition, they should check the box in the application form to request technical review. If the student is not participating in the CRRC Competition but still would like to receive technical review of a project, please reach out to [email protected].

Sponsorship and Volunteer Opportunities for CRRC Stakeholders

We're excited to offer several opportunities for CRRC Members, Roof and Wall Program Licensees, and other stakeholders to get involved and help support students and teachers that use the lesson plan. Opportunities for financial donations, in-kind donations, and volunteer activities are summarized in the info packet below.

CRRC STEAM Education Sponsors and Volunteers Info Packet

If you would like to make a donation through a charitable trust, please note the following information:

  • Organization name: Cool Roof Rating Council Inc

  • City and state: Portland, OR

  • EIN: 68-0414810


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