Monday, December 30, 2013

Snow Science

If you've got antsy kids at home and another week of vacation time to fill, here are a few more ideas to keep them busy, having fun and learning!

Activity #1 - How Much Water is in Snow?

If you're finding yourself with an abundance of snow.... perhaps you'll want to perform some investigations. 

The amount of water snow contains can very greatly, depending upon the snow. 

Gather a set amount of snow... I collected approximately 500 ml of snow.

Allow the snow to melt - if you'll be allowing it to sit for an extended time, you may wish to cover it to minimize the amount lost to evaporation. 

My 500 ml of snow yielded slightly less than 50 ml of water.  This was a very dry, powdery snow. 

If you live in a place that gets snow throughout the winter, you might want to repeat this activity with each snowfall and see how they vary in water content.

Activity #2 - Learn About Snowflake Bentley

Wilson Bentley was the first man to photograph individual snowflakes, in 1885.  He's the person who determined that no two snowflakes are exactly the same.  A fascinating man, indeed.

Start your research at the Official Website of Wilson A. Bentley.  You'll find a brief biography there, and some wonderful, printable images of his photographs. I printed
 out the collection and laminated them for my students to look at and admire.

Snowflake BentleyFor a more thorough biography, and one to share with your students, check out Snowflake Bentley.  It's a picture book intended for children.  The biography is written as a story, with a lot of factual information in the margins - you can decide how much to share based on your students.
The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley

For your own knowledge, you may want to read The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley.  I haven't read the whole book, but have read an excerpt.  You can probably get it through your library system.

Two other books that look interesting are Snowflakes in Photographs and Snow Crystals. I'm not familiar with either book, but they are both collections of Bentley's images.  Again, it might be worth looking for these at the library before investing.
Snow Crystals (Dover photography collections)Snowflakes in Photographs

Activity #3 - Make Sparkly Snowflakes
This is a fun, artsy-craftsy project in which students can learn about solubility, super-saturated solutions and crystal shapes.

Make a super-saturated solution of Borax and water:
--Fill a jar with hot water (boiling is best).
--Add Borax, a little at a time, until no more will dissolve (you'll know you're there because instead of dissolving the Borax will settle to the bottom)

Use pipe cleaners and thread to make a snowflake.

Attach a piece of thread to the snowflake.

Place the snowflake in the Borax solution and leave for several hours or overnight.

In the morning, you'll have a beautiful, sparkling snowflake, covered with large crystals.

If you'd rather not make snowflake shapes, you can shape the pipe cleaner into stars or other shapes.  You could also just place a straight pipe cleaner into the solution.

The pipe cleaner works well because all the fuzz on it gives the crystals nice places to attach, and thus works much better than just a string.  (Which may explain why all my attempts at making rock candy as a kid were met with utter failure (and a sticky mess)).

Safety Note: The Borax and the finished snowflake should come nowhere near the mouth.

Activity #4 - Learn About the Coldest Places on Earth!

Check out the National Snow & Ice Data Center, where you can learn more about some of the coldest places on Earth!  There are lots of neat pictures in the photo galleries

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hot Chocolate Science

Here are some seasonal science ideas - perfect for a long, cold vacation day with your own kids, or when your school kids need something fun to break up the sometimes-long stretch that is January and February.

Activity #1 - Hot Chocolate Solubility
You'll need at least two different varieties of hot chocolate mix and one mug for each variety.

Place an equal amount of mix in each mug. Add the same amount of water to each mug (it would be good if you could have one person add it to each mug, so it all gets added at the same time). Stir the contents of the mugs (at as close to the same rate as possible), and observe.

Does one variety dissolve better (faster) than the others? Hypothesize what makes the difference.

Activity #2 - Hot Chocolate Taste Test
Since you acquired a few different varieties of hot chocolate for activity #1, you might as well put them to additional use....

Before you prepare the hot chocolate, create a list of properties you find desirable in hot chocolate, as well as those less-desirable.  Possibilities include: sweetness, chocolatey-ness, creaminess, bitterness.

Prepare each variety of hot chocolate according to its directions.

Sample one variety at a time and evaluate it on the properties you listed, giving it a score for each property.

Once you've sampled and evaluated each variety, analyze the results to see which properties your favorite hot chocolates have in common.

Activity #3 - Are Marshmallows Good Insulators?
Prepare two identical cups of hot chocolate (same variety of hot chocolate, same amount of power, same amount and temperature of water) in identical mugs.

Float enough marshmallows on the top of one of mugs to completely cover the surface.

Place a thermometer in each mug.

Observe and record the temperature of each mug every few minutes.

Do you notice any difference between the two mugs?  What do you think accounts for that difference?

If you're looking for some additional activities.... 
the Sugar Cube Rate of Solution activity and the Goldilocks & the Three Bears Heat Transfer activity could both be adapted for use with hot chocolate. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty
Sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty
Had a great fall.

All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty
Together again.

Activity 1: Safe From Any Height
Host a mini-egg drop contest to see what could be done to protect Humpty Dumpty.

Before students get to work, demonstrate what happened to Humpty Dumpty in the rhyme.  Push a raw egg off a desk (onto a drop cloth or something else that will make clean-up easier) and observe. 

Put students into small groups to work and challenge them to build a contraption to protect Humpty Dumpty from any subsequent falls.  With preschool or kindergarten students, I would provide each group with a cup or other container as a starting point for their construction.  I wouldn't give anything to older students - let them come up with the ideas on their own. 

Provide an assortment of additional materials for students to work with:

  • yarn
  • fabric
  • packing peanuts
  • sponges
  • cotton balls
  • newspaper
  • balloons
  • straws
  • popsicle sticks
  • cotton batting
  • anything else you can think of

After students have completed their contraptions and placed an egg inside, push each one off the same desk and see if Humpty Dumpty fares any better.

It's possible that some eggs may still break, which is the perfect time to ask the students how they would change their contraption design to make it even better. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nursery Rhyme Science: Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, “What a good boy am I!”

Activity 1: Identify the parts of a plum
It's very possible that your kindergarten students aren't familiar with plums.  Pick one up at the store and identify the parts with them: the skin, the flesh and the pit.

Activity 2: Compare and Contrast
Compare the plum to another fruit that students, such as an apple or an orange.  What do the fruits have in common and what's different about them.

Activity 3: Plant the pit
Will the pit grow?  Remove the pit from the plum and plant it in a cup with some dirt.  Give it a little water and see what happens.