Catching Snowflakes

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Are you in a place where snow falls in winter? If so, try catching snowflakes. Then take a close look. Can you find two snowflakes that look alike?

Learning Objectives

  • Students learn how snowflakes form and examine the variety of snowflake shapes.

Time

  • Student activity: 20 minutes
  • Class discussion/analysis: 10 minutes

Educational Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

  • PE K-ESS2-1: Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time. 
  • DCI: ESS2.D Weather and climate
  • Crosscutting concepts: Patterns
  • Science and Engineering Practices: Analyzing data

Materials

  • Falling snow!
  • Warm winter cloths
  • Black construction paper
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Notebooks and colored pencils 
  • Glass microscope slides (optional)
  • Aqua-Net hairspray (optional)

Directions

  1. Ensure students are dressed warmly. Head outside into the falling snow with black construction paper and magnifying glasses.
  2. Have students hold the black paper flat so that snowflakes fall on it. Keep your hands at the paper's edges so avoid melting or crushing the snowflakes. 
  3. Instruct students to look for similar and different types of snowflakes through their magnifying glasses.
  4. Have students draw the shapes that they see in their notebooks with the colored pencils. 
  5. Optional: Save your snowflakes for later by catching them on a glass microscope slide instead of paper. Spray the slides lightly with hairspray. The snowflakes will melt but their shaped will be preserved on the glass. 
  6. Discussion: Head back inside and have students share the shapes of the snowflakes they saw. Ask whether all students found the same shapes of snowflakes or if there are a variety. Show student the snowflake shapes on the SnowCrystals website. Have students compare their snowflake drawings with the shapes on the website. 

Background

Snowflakes are made from ice crystals which grow in symmetrical shapes in the atmosphere. Some snowflakes are simple, made of only a single crystal and are shaped like a rod. Other snowflakes are made of hundreds of crystals and form elaborate six-sided shapes. The shapes of snowflakes depend on the temperature and amount of water vapor in the air. When there is little water vapor in the air, snowflakes tend to form more simple shaped. When air is humid, more elaborate snowflakes are able to grow. 

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