The Magical World of Snowflakes: Snowflake Science for Elementary Students

Cover image Snowflake Science for Elementary Students/ child catching snowflakes on a mitten

Nothing represents the beauty and magic of winter more than a snowflake. Snowflakes can capture the imagination and intrigue of students while also helping them to learn about different scientific principles. Through studying snowflakes, our students can learn about the states of matter and crystallization, concepts such as symmetry, and even practice sketching. However, the only way you can really study snowflakes is by getting outside. Why not take advantage of your next snowy day, get outside with your students, and immerse your class in some snowflake science?

a snowflake on a black background

Before You Start- Winter Outdoor Education Safety

Taking the time to ensure that everyone is safe and comfortable will help your students have a positive experience and want to get outside more during the winter.

1. Dressing for the Weather

To ensure your students stay comfortable, warm and dry it’s important to ensure that everyone comes dressed for the winter weather. Kids who don’t come with ski pants or forget their mittens will get wet and cold rather quickly and not enjoy their time outside.

The basics of dressing for winter weather are:

  • dressing in layers
  • avoiding cotton clothing (it gets wet and stays wet)
  • a shell (wind and waterproof layer) as the outer layer on both top and bottom
  • warm winter boots (warm and waterproof)
  • mittens, toques, scarves etc.- bring extras

Take some time to prepare your students so that they know what dressing for the winter weather looks like. You can find some handy tools for communicating with families in our “Get Outside Tool Kit.”

2. Check the Snow and Weather Conditions in Advance

As part of ensuring your student’s safety, be sure to conduct a site assessment of the area you plan on using. Before taking your students out to build, ensure that you check the snow and weather conditions in the area that you plan to build in.

Some Additional Things to Consider Are:

  • how deep is the snow? can the kids easily travel through the snow? Is it accessible to everyone?
  • is the snow covering up any potential hazards?
  • are there icy areas that kids need to be aware of?
  • are there any hazards in the area that need to be mitigated?
  • are there areas with overhanging snow or ice that could fall?
  • what is the temperature and windchill?
  • do we have a warm-up space?
Snowflake on a black background

What Are Snowflakes?

Snowflakes are a form of precipitation that forms in clouds when the temperature is colder than 0 degrees Celcius. They are made of ice crystals that form around bits of dust in the atmosphere. Snowflakes are 6 sided due to the shape of the water molecules that they are made from. As the snowflakes get heavier, they start to fall from the clouds as snow. Find out more info here: UCAR Sky Sci for Kids.

Outdoor Snowflake Science

The best place to learn about snowflakes is outside, while the snow is falling. Sometimes, if it is a perfect snowfall day (with big fluffy snowflakes) I drop whatever unit/lesson we are working on just to study the snow. Your students will be amazed at the diversity of patterns and types of snowflakes that they find.

Snowflake Observation

Materials: Magnifying glasses, black felt or dark-coloured cardstock (I find it easiest to use pieces that are about the size of a half sheet of paper), SNowflake charts

This is a simple way to allow your students to see the diversity of snowflakes. It requires very little prep work (besides printing off some snowflake charts and finding some dark cardstock.) Often during the winter I have all of the materials ready to go so that we can take advantage of the “perfect snowfall” moments.

  1. Print off snowflake charts (such as this one.) You may wish to laminate the charts or put them in a plastic bag or protective sleeve.
  2. Prepare the felt/cardstock. I like to chill them ahead of time also so that the snow doesn’t melt as soon as it touches the paper/felt.
  3. Provide students (or partners) with a magnifying glass, a piece of dark felt/cardstock, and a snowflake chart.
  4. Students will spend time outside catching snowflakes on their felt/cardstock then using their magnifying glasses to observe them. They can then use the snowflake chart to determine what type of snowflake they have found.
  5. After their exploration time students can share what they noticed about their snowflakes and any wonders that they may have.

Sketching Snowflakes

Materials: Magnifying glasses, dark-coloured felt/cardstock, clipboards, pencils, sketching paper

This activity can be used in addition to the snowflake observation activity described above.

  1. Prepare the materials. Cut pieces of felt/cardstock for your students and chill them.
  2. Provide each student with a magnifying glass, dark coloured felt/cardstock, clipboard, paper, and pencil
  3. Students will catch snowflakes on their felt/cardstock. They will then sketch the snowflakes that they see.
  4. After sketching time, provide students with the opportunity to share what they discovered about their snowflakes and their snowflake sketches. They can also share what they might be wondering about snow/snowflakes.
A child observing snowflakes on a tree

Snow Conditions Inquiry

Materials: Magnifying glasses, clipboards, pencils, collection vessels

This is a great activity if you happen to have missed a recent snowfall, but fresh snow is on the ground. Students can still study the characteristics of the fallen snow in different areas of the learning space. They will then make inferences as to why the snow in different spaces shows the characteristic it does. This can be tied in with the study of the states of matter and how matter changes as well as the study of water.

  1. Before heading out to explore, list the different characteristics snow can have (fluffy, hard-packed, icey, crunchy, etc.)
  2. Provide your students with a list of different places in your learning space where they will go to explore the qualities of the snow.
    • Have the students visit each space and record the characteristics of the snow as well as create a sketch of what it looked like (for example, snowbanks, ripples, completely flat, etc.). If you wish you can create a template for students to record their observations that meets your learning objectives.
    • Students can use the magnifying glasses to look carefully at the snow and observe the pattern the snow crystals are taking
    • Students can collect a sample of the snow in that area for further study
  3. Once students have collected their data, have them share their observations. Students can then infer why the snow is the way it is. For example, an open field might be completely flat with hard-packed snow because the wind blows the snow straight across.
  4. For further enrichment, students can learn about avalanche science and how mountaineers and backcountry skiers study the snowpack to decide if it is safe.
a girl holding a handful of snow

Snow Measurement- Snow Depth

Materials: Metersticks or rulers, clipboards, pencils, recording sheet

This is a fun way to take math outside. Students can study the depth of snow in different areas and make inferences as to why it differs in different areas.

  1. Provide students with a meterstick/ruler, clipboard, recording paper, and pencil.
  2. Set boundaries for your students then have them go and measure the snow depth in a variety of areas in your learning space. (If you wish you may tell them which areas to measure.)
  3. Ask students to share their data. Students can then infer reasons as to why it is different depths in different places

Snow Measurement- Snow Temperature

Materials: Thermometers, clipboards, pencils, recording sheet

This activity is very similar to the Snow Depth Measurement activity. The only difference is that you are measuring the temperature of the snow!

How Clean is Our Snow Experiment

Materials: Coffee filters, plates/pie tins, sharpie

This is a great way to show your students that snow is more than just water! This might be eye-opening for the kids who just can’t resist eating the snow!

  1. Collect snow from different areas (for example, playground, field, under a tree, etc.) as well as some freshly fallen snow.
  2. Place each snow sample on its own coffee filter. (Label the location each sample is from on coffee filter with a sharpie so you know which sample is from where.) Place the coffee filter on a plate.
  3. Allow the snow to melt and the water to evaporate.
  4. Have the students observe the coffee filters from all the different locations. Ask them what they are noticing on the filters. You might be surprised at what you see on the filters!
snow being held by rainbow mittens

Snowflake Melting Experiment

Materials: Students will determine what they will need for their experiment

Snow melts more quickly when it hits different surfaces. Students will make observations about where the snow melts and doesn’t melt, then design an experiment to test their hypothesis.

  1. Have your students spend some time observing a fresh snowfall. Ask them to note places where the snow is melting and places where the snow is accumulating.
  2. Depending on your students abilities and familiarity with conducting experiments, this activity can be done as a class, a small group, or individuals.
    • Have students create a hypothesis as to why snow stays in some places.
    • Students will then design an experiment to test this hypothesis
  3. Following the experiment have the students discuss why knowing where the snow stays/melts is important for the ecosystem. You can also tie it to other areas of your curriculum, such as water systems and states of matter.
a child catching snowflakes on her face

Now Let’s Get Outside and Enjoy the Snow!

Let the snow inspire your students and get outside to explore this winter. Embrace the next snowfall and get outside to discover the beauty and magic of snowflakes. There are so many ways that we can make snowflake science for elementary students both accessible and engaging. What better way to embrace winter than to get outside and study the magic of snow?

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