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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ice Science: Grow Your Own Ice Spikes!

Brrrr! As the weather is turning colder, I start to think about the science of ice and snow. Ice comes in many forms out in nature, from icicles to frost, even ice ribbons and flowers. One structure that is not found very often in nature is called an ice spike.

As you can imagine, an ice spike is just that, a spiky column of ice. You can grow your own ice spikes, and challenge students or children to figure out how they formed, easily and quickly using your own freezer. Read on for the directions to get started with this ice science investigation and to find some other great links to ice and snow activities.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning I will receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking a product link. Please see disclosures page for more details.


How does Ice Form? 

You may think that ice is simply frozen water, but did you know that it is actually a type of crystal? Regular ice has a crystalline structure of repeating hexagons or cubes.Various conditions can give ice irregular crystalline shapes too. Ice crystals form around tiny particles or impurities. The ice structure grows from these first crystals.

Materials Needed to Grow Ice Spikes 

To grow ice spikes you need only a few materials. Most kids are probably familiar with how ice cubes form, but you may want to make some with regular tap water before you start this experiment to use as an example.



Grow an Ice Spike

In order to grow ice spikes, all you have to do is fill the ice cube tray with the distilled water and place it in the freezer. The cubes will freeze fairly quickly, so you'll want to check on them every half hour or so. If you want regular ice cubes to compare these to, fill a second ice cube tray with tap water and let them freeze as well.

We got so excited about taking photos of the first ice spike that we took it out of the freezer and it began to quickly melt. See below! They can be fragile!

You also may not grow spikes each time. We found that filling the ice cube tray up to the top was helpful.

Why Does the Ice Spike Grow? 

Before revealing why the ice grew these crazy structures, ask your students or children why they think this happened. You can also tell them it doesn't happen very often in nature. Why do they think this is? After a brainstorm, reveal the science.

Distilled, or pure water, freezes differently than water with impurities. It freezes quickly because it supercools. In other words, the distilled water freezes at a lower temperature than regular tap water. It can remain liquid water longer, but once it begins to freeze, it freezes rapidly.

The sides of the ice cube tray may seem smooth, but small scratches or bumps in the plastic can serve as the spot where the first ice crystals form. The ice cube freezes around the outside first, leaving liquid in the center. As the ice closes in on the liquid water a few of the ice crystals (which are less dense than the liquid water) float to the top and are pushed out of the hole, forming a spike. The spike continues to grow until the entire thing is frozen.

Regular tap water has impurities and freezes at a normal freezing point for water. It does so more slowly, and the crystals form more evenly and uniformly. This doesn't result in the center staying liquid the longest, so there is no hole for a spike to form in. Water free of impurities is rare in nature, and that is why you might not see ice spikes when you are out on a winter hike.

Winter Science Activities

Winter is a great time for science! There is a ton to learn about seasons, ice, snow and winter wildlife. Explore these links for tons of activities to keep the kids busy. 

STEAM Saturday: Ice and Snow Science Activities

Learning about Friction while Playing in the Snow :: From Engineer to Stay at Home Mom

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thanksgiving Dinner Trophic Pyramid Activity

Those school days before a break, holiday or vacation can be pretty exhausting for a teacher. The kids are excited and wiggly (can you blame them?) The teachers are running out of steam. There are often special assemblies, field trips and other things that make the normal schedule not so normal, adding to the fun. It is an uphill battle!

When I was teaching during chaotic times like these I tried to find a way to create activities that still allowed for learning but were not too vexing for the students or myself. The day before Thanksgiving was one of these times! I would teach a unit on ecosystems with my fourth graders, including food webs, chains and trophic levels. To wrap this up before we took a few days to stuff ourselves with turkey I liked to do this easy "Thanksgiving Dinner Trophic Pyramid" science activity. It really illustrates that humans also consume more at the lower levels of the energy pyramid, just as in any ecosystem.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning I will receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking a product link. Please see disclosures page for more details.

Materials for Thanksgiving Dinner Trophic Pyramid

You will need:

Background Information for Trophic Pyramid Lesson

A trophic pyramid, also known as an ecological pyramid or energy pyramid is a graphical representation of food energy levels in an ecosystem. In other words, who eats who and how energy moves up the food chain. The widest part of the pyramid is made up of plants, the narrow point at the top is reserved for the top predator/carnivore. For more background and an activity to learn about trophic pyramids, check this lesson out.

A great book for learning about how energy moves through an ecosystem or food chain is: Pass the Energy Please! by Barbara Shaw McKinney. It's great for a read-aloud (even to early middle-schoolers) or as inspiration for writing and illustrating food chain rhymes.

Thanksgiving Dinner Trophic Pyramid Activity

Draw a very large triangle on the white board, or mark off a triangle on the floor with tape. Give it 4 sections, labeled from bottom to top: "Producer", "Consumer-Herbivore", "Consumer-Omnivore/Carnivore", and "Apex or Top Predator".  You can also get the printable version of the trophic pyramid here.

Give students three 3x5 cards, or post-it notes. Instruct them to draw and label something they like to eat or drink on Thanksgiving on each card. They will then tape their card up in the part of the pyramid they believe it belongs in: "Producer", "Consumer-Herbivore", "Consumer-Omnivore/Carnivore", and "Apex or Top Predator".

Some might fit in more than one category based on ingredients. In general all plant-based items should go in the "Producer" section, any animal products will go in the "Consumer" sections, based on what type of animal. Most likely for your purposes, you won't have anything that goes in either "Consumer-Omnivore/Carnivore", and "Apex or Top Predator" sections.

When finished discuss what they notice about the diagram. For sample questions, download the Thanksgiving Trophic Pyramid lesson plan here. 

More Food Science Activities for Thanksgiving 

Try these other fun science activities with your children or students in November: