Are you looking for an exciting, easy winter science activity? Did your students know that snowflakes are crystals? Whether you are in a region with plenty of snow or where it doesn’t snow at all, you and your class can grow a crystal “snowflake” that will not melt. Read on to get ideas for how to tie in your curriculum with this winter science for kids project!
Do this fun class science project over two school days, as the crystal needs to grow overnight. Elementary students will love coming back the next day to see what has happened!
You will need:
- Borax (not Boraxo): This can be picked up at a hardware store, Target, or ordered online. (You can also use salt or sugar if your timing is flexible for crystal growth).
- An electric kettle (although you can also heat water in a microwave)
- A wide-mouth glass jar (that can stand up to heat)
- White pipe cleaners
- A pencil
- A long metal spoon (which will help conduct heat to avoid cracking the jar)
- Gloves or mitts
How can you make this experiment work?
First, prepare your pipe cleaners. Cut one or more pipe cleaners in three equal pieces. Then, you or your students can twist the pipe cleaners at the center to make a snowflake shape with six arms or points. The crystals are going to form along the pipe cleaner to create the snowflake shape. So, the snowflake pipe cleaner shape needs to fit inside the jar.
Next, cut the string at a length where you can tie one end to the snowflake and the other end can hang from the pencil at the top of the jar. Go ahead and tie both ends. Heat the water to a simmer or a low boil in a safe location.
Now you are ready to show the class the experiment. You might want to create a barrier or line they should not cross in the classroom, or simply make sure everyone stays in their seats, since you will need to use very hot water. This is a great time to explain what you are showing them. You can tie in NGSS science curriculum about real snow–weather and climate or you can teach about the structure and properties of matter via the formation of the crystals.
Place your metal spoon in the jar. With your students watching, pour the hot water very slowly into the jar (to prevent cracking). Carefully take your spoon out of the jar, and add Borax one spoonful at a time to the water. Stir to dissolve. You should keep doing this until you have at least three tablespoons of Borax per cup of water.
Now is a great time to build anticipation for the crystals you and your class can expect to see the next day! Once you have stirred enough Borax into the water, hang the pipe cleaner snowflake. You’ll want to hang it from the top of the glass jar using the pencil. The snowflake should be completely submerged in the liquid.
Keep the jar in an undisturbed location overnight. Make sure you store the Borax safely as well so no children get to it, as it should not be consumed or inhaled. If it makes you more comfortable, you can use sugar or salt for this experiment, but it may take longer for crystals to form.
Check back the next day with your class for a beautiful snowflake crystal formation and another science education opportunity! There is a good chance your students will look for the snowflake-shaped crystals when they first arrive the next morning! The crystals are safe for them to touch. You can even hang the finished crystal snowflake in front of a window to catch the sunlight and refer to it if you are studying waves!
How it works:
A crystal is a solid containing an internal pattern of molecules that is regular, repeated, and geometrically arranged.
Borax is a detergent booster (so it is safe to use as directed) made up of soft crystals. It’s a family of mineral compounds found in nature.
One way that crystals form is when a liquid solution of dissolved minerals slowly cools. That is what’s happening here. At a higher temperature, more of the borax can dissolve in the water. As it cools, the water molecules become closer together, causing the borax crystals to form. A chemical reaction occurs that separates the borax crystals from the water.
Real snowflakes are also made of crystals. They form differently than the borax–when a warm gas, oxygen, cools down. What is similar is that crystals form because of the cooling that happens.
You can teach some or all of this, depending on grade level. You can also show your students close-up pictures of beautiful snowflake crystals.
It is really fun to see your students the next day, amazed at the formation of the crystals overnight! You can continue the discussion or check for understanding when you revisit the activity.
To see someone else do this activity first, visit Sick Science! On YouTube.
If you want to teach about animals in the winter. Visit this post!
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