Science is "Snow" Much Fun! (Part 1)

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SWBAT observe a new substance and write down three observations about it.

Big Idea

Making "snow" in summer leads to interesting scientific observations!

Teacher Notes

Building a snowman in the late summer might seem impossible!  But this little activity perfectly blends science experimentation with just plain old fun!  Okay, do I have you intrigued?  I hope so! In a previous lesson we've read a book about Mad Margaret having fun following the scientific method, so now it is time for my class to try it out for themselves.  Since this is their first real experiment of the year, we will work together as an entire class.  I don't think the kiddos are quite ready to tackle this by themselves.


Activity Description of Part 1 and 2

As a class, my students made "snow-dough" from simple, basic ingredients.  In part 1 of the investigation, students asked questions and made observations about this mixture. In part 2, we made three snowmen from the "snow-dough" for an experiment. After making and decorating the snowmen the children formed a hypothesis based on their learning and observations from Part 1 about what they thought would make the "snow" melt faster--water, vinegar or air.  Each child formed a hypothesis and wrote it down.  Then as a class, we followed the other steps in the scientific method to complete the experiment--investigation, data collection and discussing the results.


NGSS and Common Core Standards

This lesson engulfs many science standards.  Scientific inquiry is one of the basic foundations of the NGSS.  Students depend on observation skills to help them formulate questions which begins the inquiry process. In this activity, the children observed a new substance, asked a relevant question, made a hypothesis, followed a procedure, collected data and discussed results which is heavily emphasized in the NGSS standards.  Making and noting observations is the first step to begin to prepare them for the idea that matter comes in all different shapes, sizes and can be classified by its observable properties. It also incorporates measurement skills.  



For this fun learning activity I needed a few easy-to-find materials.  Best of all, it was cheap stuff I already had at home.  

  • 2 cups baking SODA
  • 2 T salt
  • 1 t dish soap
  • 8 T water
  • spoon and bowl for mixing
  • vinegar (a small amount)
  • 1 large clear plastic bin with 1 " or greater sides  (so kids can all see what is happening)
  • measuring spoons and measuring cups
  • plastic butter knife
  • 1 tray per student pair (I use microwave dinner trays)
  • magnifying glasses (at least one per pair)
  • Senses Poster -1 for the class
  • My Snow-Dough Observation Chart-1 per student
  • Power of Observation Worksheet-1 per student


I used the Science Snowman Teacher Direction Page for directions for making "snow-dough" for the class.  As noted, I made a double batch so I had enough so the children could  touch and feel the mixture to help them make predictions about it.  I also created a Student Snowman Directions Take-Home Page so I could run off copies and send it home with the children.  As you probably guessed, they all wanted a copy of the recipe!  I feel anytime we can get kids involved and interested in science, it's a great thing! 




15 minutes

I call the students to the front of the room.  I want to really engage them in the activity I have planned for today.

"We are going to be making something so cool in science today!  We are going to be making snow!"  Their faces automatically light up in wonder since it is still very warm outside!  I certainly have everyone's attention.  I reply, "Yep, we really are!  I bet you want to know how we can possibly make a snow when it is so hot outside? We can make snow because we are scientists, and scientists do really cool experiments and investigations.  Anyone have any ideas of how we can make snow?"  

I listen to their wonderful, creative ideas.  This really engages them and gets them thinking and questioning like a scientist--and even thinking "outside the box."

I have a very special recipe to make some scientific snow with some simple household items.  How many of you have ever helped your parents bake a cake or cookies?  What did you do to make sure the cookies or cake turned out correctly?  You probably followed a recipe.  We are going to using a recipe today to make our snow.  Scientist follow sets of directions, which can be similar to following recipes, when they are doing an investigation.  We are going to be like scientists today and follow directions to make snow.

I pull out the measuring cups and ask if anyone knows what they are called.  

Why do you think we are using measuring cups and not just guessing on the amounts needed?  Just like with a regular recipe, you need to make sure that you have things in the proper amounts so it turns out like intended. I repeat the phrase since it is so important, "Yes, scientists need to be accurate when measuring."  

This lets them know right away what the expectations are...we are having fun, but it will be within scientific parameters.  I display the Science Snowman Teacher Direction Page recipe on the Smartboard.  This lets them all see the snow-dough recipe.  Make sure you follow the teacher direction page, which is a double recipe so you can have enough so the children can feel the mixture so they have that experience in which to base their predictions.

Scientists need to follow procedures so they can ensure that the experiment turns out the same each time it is done.  We call that being consistent.  We are going to be operating like scientists, so we also need to follow the procedures as precisely as directed.  Does anyone know how a recipe is read?  

I prompt them as needed to get to the answer of a recipe has the list of ingredients plus the amount needed of each one listed at the top.  So we check the recipe on the Smartboard to see if this is true.  

Who can come up and point out where this is done?

A child points to the top.  

It is always a good idea to read through the directions to see if we have all of the materials and tools and if we understand what is to be done.  

So we read through each ingredient pointing out which item is which.  When doing this I also hold up the measurement tool, such a tablespoon, so the children can see the item.  Some of the children have never seen these items before, so it is important to make a point to introduce the items.  Doing this together step-by-step helps to develop the practice of the accuracy in measurement, which is crucial in science.

After we have gone over the directions, step-by-step, we work together to put the mixture together.  I call volunteers to help me with each part of the process.  We make sure when we measure that we measure accurately.  For example, when measuring to the 2 cups of baking soda, we use the side of a butter knife to level the ingredients to be accurate.





20 minutes

After the mixture is prepared, I put at least 1 cup of the mixture in a plastic bag for the building of the snowmen in Part 2.  The remainder of the "snow-dough"will be used to observe and test.

Since the ultimate goal is for them to develop their questioning skills, I ask if they can think of questions about the "snow" that they can answer using their senses.  Developing questioning skills are of utmost importance, so we spend some time practicing forming them. We start off with talking about sight.  I elicit their questions and write them down on the board for all to see to help guide their investigation. I repeat with the other senses.  Here is a list of the questions they came up with:

Sight--What can I notice when looking through the magnifying glass?  Does it have a color?  Does it remind me of something I have seen before?  Are there any shapes?

Smell--Does it have a smell? Does it smell like something you've smelled before?  

Touch--Does it have a feel to it?  Is it smooth or rough? Does it feel like something familiar?

Hearing--For this sense the children had a hard time coming up with questions, so I suggested that they rub a small amount between their fingers while holding it over the tray.  Have them listen to it as they rub.  Then they came up with their own questions.  Does it have a sound? What can you hear?

For the next part of the lesson, children will need to be divided into groups of two.  Working in partner groups ensures that each child is able to see and feel the mixture.  I use our My Clock Buddy system to get the class into partner groups.  Click here to see how it works. 

I divide the "snow-dough" into 12 black trays.   I just use trays from microwave meals, but any will do.  I purposely use the color black so the white "snow-dough" shows up nicely.  I put about 1 tablespoon of the "snow-dough" into each of the 12 trays, making sure I also have some for a class activity at the end.  

I designate 1 person from each partner group to be in charge of materials.  I do this by saying that the person with the longest hair can be in charge of picking up the materials today. The long-haired children skip up to the front table and collect 2 magnifying glasses, one for them and one for their partner and ONE tray of "snow-dough" to share.

I invite the children to observe their "snow-dough."  I remind them to use their senses by referring to the Senses Poster depicting each of the 5 senses.  I make sure I tell them that we will not be using the sense of taste for this experiment (it would be harmless, but have a nasty taste).

As they are observing the substance, I have them make notes, draw pictures or write about their observations on My Snow-Dough Observation Chart. (Click here for a student sample). This helps work toward the goal of knowing that matter can be described according to its properties.  When we finish with the observation I have them circle their best 3 observations.  This will help them with the worksheet they will do later in which they have to write down 3 observations.  They then need to star their very best one.  Then we share their findings and discuss.  To make sure everyone has a turn, I pick the names out of my "frog pond." (My frog pond is a basket that contains laminated paper frogs, each frog has one person's name on it).  I am looking for good observations that are objective.  If they are subjective, such as," it is ugly" I redirect them to tell me what they see with their eyes, smell with their nose, feel with their hands, etc.  This method seems to lead the children to more objective observations (see Snow dough observations Video Clip). 

Then I tell the class that we are going to sharpen their observation skills by seeing how the new substance reacts to vinegar and then to water.  This time around, however, we are going to work as a class instead of with partners.  I thought it would be best to do this together since we are working with vinegar and don't want any accidents to happen. So I call the children up to the front table to watch.  I put a tablespoon of "snow-dough" in a clear rectangular plastic bin to work with.  

I ask the children to predict what will happen when water is added to the "snow-dough."  After listening to their ideas, I add about a tablespoon of water to the "snow-dough."  We discuss the reaction.  

Then I add a tablespoon of vinegar to the "snow-dough." Whoa!  It fizzes up and the kids are fascinated.  To relate back to the standard, I ask the children what questions they now have about the snow-dough.  It seems like the more the children get involved the more questions they ask!





10 minutes

I check the students' understanding by having the children fill out the page titled the Power of Observation Worksheet. (Click here for a student sample).  I hand out the worksheet and have them try to read the worksheet to themselves.  Even though there are some children that cannot read this alone, this helps get the idea across that this is an expectation to work towards.

Then we read the worksheet aloud.  I write the word "snow-dough" on the board for them to copy to fill in the blank.

As scientists, we need to write down our observations.  Remember that scientists write down things that they observe with their senses.  They do not write down how they feel about the object, such as it is cute or it smells yucky.  You need to write down 3 observations.  Each observation you write down needs to begin with a capital letter and the statement should end with a period. 

Since I have some children who are academically challenged, I give them a start by writing an example on the board. "I noticed that snow-dough is white."  I tell them that they need to write 3 statements similar to what I have written on the board.  I encourage them to think of their own ideas, and not copy mine.  

However, if a student or two are not able to do this on their own, those children may copy my idea to get them on the right track.  Some children are able to write more, so I tell them they can write down more observations on the back of their papers.  

When finished, I have the children circle what they think is their best idea with a red crayon.  Then we share their best ideas only, which greatly reduces the time needed to share.  For sharing, I pull out a name from my "frog pond."  

Remember scientists share and communicate their ideas.  One of our scientists is going to be sharing his or her best idea.  We all need to be good listeners.  Good listeners turn towards the speaker and sometimes they even lean in to listen more intently.  This helps the person know you are interested in what they are saying.

Saying this to the children helps build a foundation for good listening skills, whether it be in science or in any subject.  It also helps the children work toward the standard of communicating their science ideas.

We continue sharing until everyone has had the chance to share their circled idea, even if it is a repeated idea from another student.  I feel this is necessary since they have already specifically chosen this as their best observation.  The rest of the class should be listening and picking up on new ideas and observations.  When they are sharing I make sure to comment on how they are working like scientists.  If someone shares an idea which isn't as obvious as others, I make sure to comment on how different their thinking was, since I would like to foster more in-depth observations.  This also helps get them closer to the goal of thinking like a scientist--asking questions and then making relevant observations.

After sharing, I collect their papers and as a quick assessment I check to see that each child has written down 3 observations. I am looking to see if the children are comprehending the standard of making critical observations.  Their observations should be objective, since that's what scientists do in the real world.


5 minutes

I ask the children, "How do scientists use the power of observation?  Why do you think it is important?  Did you learn anything new by observation?"  

I think that asking these questions help drive the point home that scientists rely heavily on observation.  It helps them make sense of the world.

I tell the children, "Tomorrow we will be using their observations to help guide us in an experiment.  Get ready for fun...we will be building a snowman!  And you don't even have to wear your snow-pants!  We're going to have 'snow' much fun!"