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Here in the desert, my students don’t get many chances to encounter snow. Our weather is actually pretty mild, so when it comes to standards like natural hazards, we have to branch out past what they already know. This is one of the reasons why I’m excited to tell you about my newest project: Snowflake Science STEM.
STEM Project Components
Science/Technology: Snowflakes (Natural Hazards tie-in possible)
Engineering: Designing symmetrical snowflake structures
Math: Symmetry, Measurement and Data
Added Connections: ELA standards should be included when researching and discussing during this project.
The following materials are the ones we used for this project. You can substitute the pricey jars with extra large foam cups. I send home a supply letter about 2 weeks before the project, and get most of the supplies through parent donations.
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- Large jars
- Pipe Cleaners
- Measuring Cups
- Food Coloring
- Glitter (optional)
- Electric Kettle or Coffee Maker (for boiling water)
- Snowflake STEM workbooks
- The Story of Snow (optional)
We kick off this project by researching how snowflakes are formed. I show my students YouTube videos of the process, and we sift through some of the amazing photos in W. A. Bentley’s book, Snowflakes in Photographs, or in this online gallery. Students then work together to research more about what interests them on this topic.
After students thoroughly research their snowflakes, they design one.
I then give them these directions, so that they can create their own crystalized snowflake:
- Shape your pipe cleaners into the snowflake design from your planning page.
- Fill your jar or cup with the Borax solution (1/3 cup Borax to 2 cups boiling water). Add food coloring or glitter if it was part of your plan. Larger cups/jars will need more Borax and water.
- Tie your snowflake to the pencil using the string. Check the length of the string to make sure your snowflake is fully submerged into the Borax solution.
- Place your jar or cup in a safe place until the crystals form.
A bit more about the boiling process:
I highly recommend that you bring in parent volunteers for this part of the project. You’re dealing with boiling water, and the jars get really hot, so it’s nice to have a parent there to make sure that no one gets hurt or makes a huge mess.
In the past, I used a $5 coffee maker from Walmart, but it took a long time to make enough water for each student. I suggest borrowing a larger kettle from a friend, or buying from the Amazon link above. Also, sometimes you can fit two snowflakes in one jar at a time AND you can reheat the mixture to use again by microwaving it for about 5 minutes. If you’re lucky enough to find someone with a commercial sized kettle (usually used for boiling water for coffee or hot chocolate), that’s even better!
I incorporate three main math concepts during this project: symmetry, measurement, and data. This is a great way to reinforce the math standards that they’ve already learned, or teach them for the first time. Project-based learning is SO flexible!
ELA is fairly easy to incorporate into any project-based learning activity. In this one, we focus on the following skills:
- main idea and details
- informational writing
We read a passage during this project that is grade level appropriate. We also further research snowflakes, reading books that I check out from the library, and online sources. The books below are my absolute favorite ones to use in conjunction with this project!
I pace this project out in 90 minute blocks for 5 consecutive days. The pacing calendar below shows the steps of the engineering process we do each day. I have a student organizer for each day that students have as a folded journal for the entire project. Keeping your project-based learning organized helps you better facilitate your students through in-depth inquiry. For more information on planning project-based learning, read this post.