"You're determined to make my snow day educational, aren't you?" my tween asked me in the most accusing tone of voice ever after I suggested another cold weather science project.
While I'm not that ambitious, she was right that I wanted to take advantage of the unusual cold this winter to try out some projects that would be both fun and interesting.
I am not a rocket scientist, I was an English major and so this is not hard core science, but these are still interesting science facts for kids of all ages. Also, I like warmth, and I'm not stupid, so I didn't head all the way outside. There are cold weather science experiments that can be done sticking no more than 2 extremities at a time outside my back door. Seriously, there is no school because this is weather is dangerous, so proceed accordingly.
Along those lines, for Project #1, review this chart that includes both windchill and frostbite times from the National Weather Service. We're in the 10 minutes to frostbite territory. Be safe.
Project #2 - Bust out the thermometer
Sounds basic, but it may help them appreciate just what you're working with here. We compared what it was in the garage where the thermometer usually lives (which was about 15 degrees), in the living room and then outside (-11 degrees). Heck, do some math to figure out the differences. Even if your kid can handle it, it will help keep the brain fresh.
Project #3 - Throw boiling water outside.
Yup, we opened the door and heaved water into the air. And it was pretty awesome. First, we did room temperature water. That was pretty unremarkable. It stayed liquid and plopped into the snow. Then we threw boiling water into the -11 degree air. That was awesome. It turned to snow, as you can see.
As explained on LiveScience by Mark Seeley, a climatologist at the University of Minnesota, "When it's cold outside, there's hardly any water vapor present in the air, whereas boiling water emits vapor very readily that's why it's steaming. When you throw the water up in the air, it breaks into much smaller droplets, so there's even more surface for water vapor to come off of."
"Now, cold air is very dense, and this makes its capacity to hold water vapor molecules very low. There's just fundamentally less space for the vapor molecules," Seeley explains. "So when you throw the boiling water up, suddenly the minus 22 air has more water vapor than it has room for. So the vapor precipitates out by clinging to microscopic particles in the air, such as sodium or calcium, and forming crystals. This is just what goes into the formation of snowflakes," Seeley said.
Safety Note: Be aware of the wind direction and have a grown up throw the water.
See above about not being overly ambitious, so I put some water on a paper plate, set it outside and we started the timer. It didn't take long. Then we discussed surface area and why an "ice crust" formed first and it took longer for the ice to freeze all the way through. (Also a nice chance to review why walking on ponds that look frozen is not always safe.)
Compare the time it takes to freeze tap water versus salt water and any other kinds of liquid your kids want to compare.
Another fun trick it to hang a wet or damp t-shirt outside and see how long it takes to freeze. Have family members predict and congratulate the person who comes closest.
When it's this cold, there are a lot of ice crystals in the atmosphere and the light refracting off of them can create a halo around the sun or even a faint rainbow to the left or right of the sun, which is sometimes called a "sun dog rainbow." We saw both today. And the rainbow is not a true rainbow - the difference between rainbows and sun dogs is explained here.
Project #6 - Blowing Frozen Bubbles
I keep our bubble solution in the garage. It is current frozen solid, but should be back to a liquid for tomorrow, when it is supposed to be warmer and less dangerous, especially in the afternoon. We will give this a go then. Get info and scientific explanation of the surface tension needed to make this cool experiment work from our friends to North who know their cold weather science, the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
Project #7 - Maple Taffy
The New Abides was inspired by the candy Laura Ingalls Wilder made in the snow on a cold winter day long ago. I tried making it as a kid and with my girl a few years ago, without success. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
Some of these may seem young for tweens, but that doesn't mean that they won't enjoy them.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 8 awesome science websites for kids and 5 indoor activities to keep kids busy on a snow day
Please like Tween Us on Facebook.
If you would like to get emails of Tween Us posts, please type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Uncategorized