Snow Flakes

What is snow and its value?


Without snow there is no Iditarod race, there is no dogsledding. It is needed for the sleds to glide without hazard, to break the sleds, to cool down the dogs and make water along the way for them, and so on. Snow defines Alaska and Beringia from east in Chukotka, Russia to west in Yukon, Canada — the environment, the peoples and their cultures. Explore how snow is formed and why it has such value to the environment that depends on it and ultimately the people that live in these environments!?

Scroll down for activity! Or click to download Snow Flakes Activity (PDF)



1) If available bring a dishpan of snow into the classroom. Gather everyone around it, and ask students what they know about snow? Record observations.

Have students answer questions like: What is snow? How was it formed? Are there different kinds of snow? Do you know any names for different kinds of snow? Does snow change throughout the winter? Could snow help keep you warm? Why, why not?

Do you have a lot of snow in the region you live in? Would it change your way of life in this region if you had the opposite ‘amount of snow’? Why, why not?

Where does the water in your region come from? Is it associated with snow pack.. like drainage from rivers that spring out of mountains with extended snow pack or glaciers? If yes, consider what would happen if the snow pack become smaller and smaller!?

2) Ask students if they have ever heard it said that no two snow flakes are alike? Do they think it is true? Talk about where snow flakes come from–that they are created in the clouds when water vapor freezes on a particle of dust or another solid material, and that their size and shape depends on how cold it is and how much water is in the air (humidity).

Each flake reflects the weather conditions at the exact time of their making (atmospheric conditions), We can think of them as kind of a “cloud diary.” By studying snow flakes we can actually learn about climate — the long-term history of weather.

3) Divide students into groups to make their own snow flakes using the instructions “Grow a Snowflake.”

4) If in an area where it snows, be prepared to collect real snowflakes for investigation. Have students catch snowflakes on a felt board and examine them with a hand lens identifying different basic shapes of snow. If appropriate have students illustrates the shapes with images or in drawings.

5) As appropriate discuss the science of this experiment (explained below instructions to grow snow flake)

Grow a Snow Flake

1) Cut a white pipe-cleaner into three equal sections. Twist the sections together in the center so that you have a six-sided star shape.

2) If your points are not even, trim the pipe-cleaner sections to the same length.

3) Attach string along the outer edges to form a snow-flake pattern.

4) Attach a piece of string to the top of one of the pipe cleaners and tie the other end to a pencil (to hang it from).

5) Fill a wide-mouth jar with boiling water. Mix borax into the water one table spoon at a time. Use three table spoons of borax per cup of water. Stir until dissolved.

6) If you want you can add a little blue food coloring now to give the snowflake a blueish hue.

7) Insert the pipe cleaner snow flake into the jar so that the pencil is resting on the lip of the jar and the snowflake is freely suspended in the borax solution.

8) Wait overnight and by morning the snowflake will be covered with shiny crystals. Hang it!

The science behind the fun…

Borax is a crystal. A crystal is a solid with flat sides and a symmetrical shape because its molecules are arranged in a unique, repeating pattern. Other examples of crystals are salt, sugar, and Epsom salts.

How do Borax crystals grow? Hot water holds more borax crystals than cold water. That is because heated water molecules move farther apart, making room for more of the borax crystals to dissolve. As this solution cools, the water molecules move closer together again. Now there is less room for the solution to hold onto as much of the dissolved borax. Crystals begin to form and build on one another as the water lets go of the excess and evaporates.

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