The Science of Ice – Inquiry Activities for Middle School

With the Winter Olympics right around the corner and much of the east coast battling winter storms, many families are cuddled up inside learning about the history of the games.  But for the skaters, curlers, hockey players, lugers, and bobsledders in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, their sport is about just one thing ~ ice.  With the recent popularity of Disney’s Frozen – there is no better time to explore the science of ice.   How much do you really know about ice, after all?

science of ice

NBC Learn and NBC Sports, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, have created a collection of ten short videos focused on the science and engineering design efforts behind Olympic and Paralympic athletes and the tools that each hopes will help them bring home the gold,  The Science and Engineering of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Begin your science of ice unit study by watching Science of Ice from the video collection to see if your thinking aligns with current ideas.  The short video discusses some of the physical and chemical properties of solid water and how this substance is produced to optimize performance for a particular ice sport. In this short video, athletes J.R. Celski, Britanny Bowe, and Gracie Gold talk about the ice they like and mathematician Ken Golden of the University of Utah explains why the unique surface of ice enables the slide and glide of winter sports.

Steps you can use with your students to initiate inquiry activities:

  • Guide a discussion to find out what students know about ice and ice rinks.  If possible, show students examples of different forms of ice (snow, shaved ice, crushed ice, a frosty glass, etc.).
  • Show The Science of Ice and encourage students to take notes while they watch.
  • Stimulate discussion of the molecular structure of ice and how ice is made in Olympic venues.
  • Choose one question and phrase it in such a way as to be researchable and/or testable. For example: How does the cleanliness of water affect the properties of ice? How does the salinity of water affect the freezing point?
  • Collect measurable data and create graphs to communicate what you learned.
  • Challenge students to make a model of an ice rink (use a petri dish) and vary the properties of ice. Choose one question and phrase it in such a way as to reflect an engineering problem that is researchable and/or testable.  For example: What is the quickest way to repair holes (pits and scratches) in ice during competitions? What is the best way to get a smooth surface across the surface of the ice?

When undertaking these activities, you may wish to consider using an Non-contact Infrared Thermometer.  An infrared thermometer is a thermometer which infers temperature from a portion of the thermal radiation emitted by the surface of the ice. For the purposes of these inquiry activities, an infrared thermometer will give a more accurate temperature reading.

Wanting more?  The Science of Ice Integration Guide (click link for PDF), produced by the National Science Teachers Association, provides additional lessons, activities, and ideas for research, teamwork, projects, and interdisciplinary connections.

The NSTA Conventions :: Flashback Friday #1

I follow the National Science Teachers Association on Facebook and Twitter.  As a result, I have been seeing many posts this past week regarding the convention that is taking place in San Antonio this weekend.  I haven’t attended an NSTA convention in many years – I believe the last one was in 2002, a few months prior to the birth of my daughter.  As I read the tweets, I recalled how much I thoroughly enjoy conferences.  I thereby pulled out my journal and read a few entries (before I began blogging, I kept a hand-written journal).  Here is one I would like to share:

21 March 2001 
 
I have just attended my first National NSTA Convention (after attending a few smaller, regional and or state conventions).  It will certainly not be my last.  I  had a spectacular time and it has been even more special because Patrick was able to attend with me.   
 
The first day, like the other conventions I have attended, is a little overwhelming (trying to get organized, finding the location of the talks I am interested in, navigating the exhibit hall, etc).  Buzz Aldrin was the keynote speaker.  We had to wait in line for nearly two hours to enter the lecture hall (tickets were not distributed, it was first come, first served).
 
Just after we arrived, I realized that I had forgotten my copy of his book Men From Earth in our hotel room.  I was distraught as I had desired him to sign it.  Patrick, to my delight, was willing to ride back to retrieve it – a 1-hour bus ride – one way!  This meant he would miss Buzz’ address.  Patrick you are an angel!  Thank you for being there for me & coming to my rescue!
 
After Buzz’ address, I waited another hour for the book signing – needless to say, he wasn’t too happy to sign an old book.  He was there to push his newest title.  He signed my copy but was noticeably grumpy about it.  I heard later that he refused to sign a NASA lithograph a man had cherished since he was a little boy. 
 
The line waiting at the convention was very common.  I learned there were approx. 20,000 people in attendance.  Incredible! 
 
Thursday night, we attended a dinner in my honor at Cafe de France.  It was superb!  I ordered Greek Salad, Venison Steak with steamed veggies and potatoes, and Amaretto Cake.  Regrettably, I don’t recall all the details the server used to describe each dish.  Next time, I will be sure to write it down or request a keepsake menu.  [ I really do this now! I have quite a collection of menus. 🙂 ]
 
The award coordinator for the CIBA Foundation, Lois Amend, was very classy.  It was a memorable occasion just meeting her.  I felt so comfortable in her presence – she was very humble and down-to-earth.  
 
On Friday, I did get a change to go to a couple of sessions and see many of the exhibits.  Surprisingly, even though there were four 160 page catalogs describing the activities (short courses, sessions, workshops, tours, and special events) there were few that were actually of interest to me.  Those I did desire to attend frequently conflicted with one another.  Disappointing yet I don’t believe that I’ll spend as much time in line at future conventions.  I spent another 2 hours Friday afternoon waiting to have Bill Nye sign a book – in retrospect, had I known he was going to address the Council for Elementary Science International (CESI) luncheon on Saturday – I would’ve waited.
I also participated in the NASA NEW Share-a-Thon on Saturday whereby past participants of the NEW workshops shared with prospective applicants activities and projects we had learned ourselves.  I was very nervous.  I had brought two activities to share:  film canister rockets (which turned out to be a familiar favorite for many) and Geometry of Moon Phases – a hit!  There were so many attendees, I ran out of handouts!  It felt really good to share my ideas with others.  Even other NEW alumni enjoyed the moon activity.  Wendall Mohling (NSTA Coordinator for NASA) and Christina Gorski were very appreciative of our participation and gave us small thank you gifts (NEW lapel pin, a patch, and a coffee mug).  Very Cool!
 
The highlight of the trip was above all the CESI luncheon on Saturday.  The council members were so genuinely excited to meet me.  I could not believe how special they believed me to be.  The CESI/CIBA award, I learned, is their highest honor.  When Patrick and I arrived, we were quickly ushered in (despite the huge line of people who had purchased tickets).  After we were shown our seats at a reserved table near the podium, I was quickly introduced to Barbara Morgan, the luncheon speaker and next teacher in space.  She was as excited to meet me as I was to meet her.  Everyone was giving me hugs and shaking my hand.  It was a little overwhelming.  When I looked over the luncheon agenda, I discovered that Bill Nye was also being presented an award.  My name was on the same agenda as his!! Wow! I am still in awe.  There were nearly 400 people at the luncheon including Connie & Bonnie (fellow JPL NEW alumni) … it was great to see them. 
When Barbara Morgan gave her address, she said, “Isn’t it wonderful to have bright, young people like Eva Varga teaching?”  I was so honored.  People I didn’t know were taking my picture as I was presented my award. As the luncheon came to a close, others came to shake my hand and congratulate me.  A retired woman even gave me the microscope she won during the raffle, “You’ll need this more than I, dear.  Besides, I don’t really want to pack it home.”  How delightful! 🙂
 
A few people even recognized me in the exhibit hall and came up to express their good wishes.  “Eva, you are such an inspiration.  Congratulations on your award.  You certainly deserve it.”  I never would have guessed the scale to which this award would be recognized.  I have truly been blessed.  The benefits will continue as the new relationships I’ve developed promise to open doors for me in the future.
 
In the word of Bill Nye, “Science teachers, like Eva Varga, are what keep the PB and J in teaching .. Passion, Beauty, & Joy.”

I share this with my readers in the hope that you will be inspired yourself to pursue your passions.  I have come to realize I miss this part of my life – the professional me.  I am thereby taking strides to bring her back.  Look forward to great things to come as I share my experiences and skills more regularly.

Have any of you attended conventions?  Perhaps a homeschool convention or blogging conference?  Perhaps you have attended conferences focused on specific interests or hobbies like stamp collecting, knitting, or jewelry.  I’d love to hear about your experience.