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What, More Snow?

It is winter and if you live in the Midwest or the east you are about ready for spring to melt the 3 feet of snow outside your door and watch the bulbs bloom.  But, the long term forecast you we may have to live with the snow for a bit longer. I know the kids are restless and recess is either canceled or held inside. Science, however can live both in and outside at this time of year.


I posted on weather and snow activities earlier and many of you have sent great ideas for more snow science. With the Winter Olympics beginning this week and snow being a major concern for at least one of the venues (the snowboard and freestyle events) it is a great time to explore a bit about the science of snow.
There are sites out there that talk about snow from every grade level. There is a National Snow and Ice Data Center that archives all sorts of data that would be great for math/science integration. This site has snow removal information, climate data and links to everything snow related from avalanches to snow shovels.
http://nsidc.org/snow/index.html

This next site is an internet project from Chicago that takes middle school students and lets them measure the water content in snow and share that data with the designers of this project.
http://astro.uchicago.edu/cara/southpole.edu/flaky.html

It would be easy to connect with a school in another state and share data on the moisture content of snow with other students. Does snow near the coast usually contain more water? Does the snow that fell in the Midwest have more moisture than that in Washington, DC? Does the air temperature at the time of the snowfall impact the moisture content? This is a good chance to talk about variables. When you collect the snow the air temperature at time of snowfall, the geographic location of the snow, and a host of other variables figure into the mix. Which ones should you keep track of in trying to answer your questions?

How fast does snow melt? Simply placing a meter stick outside in a convenient snow bank on the north side of the building and one on the south and having the kids make measurements each morning can provide a data gathering opportunity and a chance to talk about solar energy and the power of the sun. I would probably also give the kids a chance to try to keep a snowball from melting and talk about thermal insulation. This part is easy. You control the mass of the snowball and then let the kids design an experiment that would keep the snowball from melting.  My students have used thermal cups, fabric, cotton balls (lots of them), bubble wrap and even mittens or gloves. One group explored whether tight snowball packing or looser snow would melt slower.

Of course there is a chance for the intersection of science with art. Many students have not had the chance to make a snowman. The construction of a snowman is engineering science if you insert a few helpful criteria or open it to snow sculpting. We have made a snow sculpture of famous scientists, science lab equipment (a beaker is actually quite a challenge), or some famous science experiment (Ben Franklin anyone?). There is a pretty good snow sculpture site that has some pretty good ideas.

http://www.snowsculpt.com/gallery.html
http://www.vermontsnows.com/snow-sculpture-gallery/

So, as the streets clear up and the snow piles outside the school slowly melt, head out and try to make use of the frozen teaching materials that fell this week. Just a little focus outside is almost as good as a full energy recess. If you do a snow sculpture feel free to post it to us. We would love to see some of your work!

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