Science and winter

I was in a school once where the teachers did a “winter” unit on penguins with activities that included trade books, puzzles, writing activities, and the showing of several popular films. But there was not a lot of science involved, and one of their bulletin boards even showed a group of polar bears and penguins frolicking together (Arrgh!). They put a lot of time and effort into this, but I had to wonder what the students actually learned about these birds or about the winter season.

Any change of season can be a focus for science activities. A colleague starts each season by having students brainstorm seasonal questions and adding a few of her own. She shares some of the winter ones:

Winter scene MLB Why do we have “winter?” What is a “solstice?”
What happens when animals hibernate?
How do frogs survive the winter?
Why should we “dress in layers” when it’s cold?
Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?
What does a desert look like in winter?
Is there a difference between a conifer and an evergreen?
Are all conifers called “pines?”
Do we see different constellations in the winter? Why?
How does a thermostat work? How does a heat pump work?
Why do people put wax on skis?
What is the “jet stream” that seems to influence our weather?
Do El Ninos and La Ninas happen in the winter?
Why do icicles form? What makes ice slippery?
How does “insulation” work?
If ice is a solid, why does it float?
What is “frostbite?”
Does colder weather cause us to catch a cold?
What’s the difference between the Arctic and Antarctica?
Why do highway crews put salt on the road? What happens to the salt later?

Note how these questions include topics in the life, physical, and earth sciences. She puts them on her “seasons” bulletin board and refers to them in her lessons where appropriate. For example, during a unit on the states of matter she would address questions related to ice, a weather unit would incorporate the questions on El Nino. At the end of the season she wraps things up with any remaining questions.

She does not look up all of the answers herself to present to the students. Through hands-on activities and Internet searches, she guides students through the process of answering their own questions. That’s where SciLinks can help. Use keywords such as Snowflake, El Nino, Identifying trees, Ice, Season, Heat, States of matter, or Constellations to access web-based sources of information and ideas for related activities.

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