This winter has had more than “teachable moments”—it’s been a teachable season (at least on those days when school was in session). No matter what winter looks like in your neck of the woods, it’s an interesting time for science activities.
It’s been a meteorology paradise this winter. In SciLinks, the key word Snowflakes has many resources on the science of snow. I really like the All About Snow site from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. If the forecast includes the dreaded “wintry mix,” the precipitation section of the Weather World 2010 site has diagrams that differentiate between rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, and snow. For more on the science of snow (and beautiful pictures), check out Snow Crystals, created by a physics professor at CalTech. The official Snowflake Bentley site describes the work of this snowflake photographer.
Deciduous trees get all the press in the fall when the leaves are changing colors and in the spring when they start to bud. But evergreen trees maintain their dignity throughout the winter. My students used to use the generic term “pine” for any conifer until we learned how to distinguish pines (needles in packets), spruces (short, single, sharp needles), hemlocks, and cedars. Or challenge your “budding” botanists to identify trees by their bark. (SciLinks: Identifying trees)
Speaking of trees, in some parts of the country, it’s maple sugaring time. If your students are familiar only with corn-syrup pancake toppings, they might be interested in learning how real maple syrup is produced. Tap My Trees has step-by-step directions with illustrations to show students this process. The University of Maine has an informative handout. There are also quite a few YouTube videos of the process, including From Trees to Pancakes narrated by a 4th-grader.
Two dreaded words in inclement weather: indoor recess. Of course, students need time to use up some energy and take a break. But try some alternatives to coloring pages or find-a-word handouts. Check out the Snacks and After-School Activities from the Exploratorium. These simple activities provide students with additional hands-on explorations in a variety of science-related topics.
Mark your calendars (February 18-21) for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Visit the project website to learn how you and your students can contribute data. Other animals leave tracks in the snow or mud. Learn how to identify them with Follow That Footprint and the Tracks and Signs Guide. (A recent Early Years blog has suggestions for using this project with young scientists.)
I saw a great map the other day, showing how 49 of the 50 states had snow somewhere. What are the weather trends this year? Is this really the worst winter ever? You and your students can access searchable data from NOAA by state or region to look at the patterns from longitudinally.
And it’s not too early to plan outdoor activities for the spring, such as Schoolyard Geology. Stay warm for now!