Tiny Six-Pointed Crystals of Ice

I was born in upstate New York and my parents moved our little family to Maine when I was 3 years old, so as you might imagine, I love the beauty in the change of seasons, and in particular,the magic of a snow storm. As a young girl, I remember intently listening to the radio after (or during)  a snow storm, hoping to hear my school listed on the Snow Day – School Closed Announcements, so that I could play in the snow, and then come inside to drink hot chocolate and read a good book (or two).  

Fast forward through many four-seasons (and lots of books) … 

Within a year of moving to South Carolina with my new husband, Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charleston, and that winter we had a snow storm that dropped 8-10  inches (very unusual for the Lowcountry), and never again in the 7+ years I lived there. The January after moving to Maryland, a blizzard dumped 36 inches.  In the 27 years I have lived in Maryland, we have had 5 or 6 blizzards with major snow accumulations. I have enjoyed every snowfall, be it a light dusting or a thick blanket. 

I particularly love the snow storms that leave the ground covered in a blanket of snow, decorating the trees and their branches with snowy lace.  I savor the peace that follows a thick blanket of snow –  and enjoy taking photographs of the natural beauty that surrounds me when the world is glistening with beautiful white snowflakes.  In all seasons, taking closeups of the amazing beauty in our natural world is a fascination of mine.

Being a New Englander, I was interested in learning about Vermonter Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley and his spectacular snowflake photographs.  I created a lesson around the picture book, Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian.  Her lovely woodcut illustrations were awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1999. At the time of the award announcement,  the American Library Association Caldecott Committee Chair Barbara Barstow said,

Snowflake Bentley has a beautiful and thoughtful design, a poetic and informative text, distinguished illustrations, universal appeal and resonance. Mary Azarian, a Vermont artist who loves snow as much as Wilson Bentley, has created strong and skillfully carved woodcuts that portray sensible, sturdy characters and a timeless rural landscape.

“Of all the forms of water the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.”

Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931)

Bentley’s process for photographing snowflakes, and his persistence to keep doing it despite the challenges he faced and the difficulty in taking the photographs, is admirable, and a wonderful lesson in itself.  There are many lesson resources that focus on the social emotional aspects of Wilson Bentley’s story.   You can find many resources on TeachingBooks here.

Although I touched on the social emotional aspect of Wilson’s story, I really hoped to get my students excited about the fascinating process of snowflake’s creation.  As I was creating my lesson,  I was very excited to discover the Carly and Adam’s Snowflake Bentley (literacy-based)  STEM Activity and related Design a Snowflake STEM Challenge in their Seasonal STEM Challenges library (January and Winter STEM Challenges). 

Because I wanted to make a hallway display of their snowflakes, I combined the two challenges and shared them with my 3rd and 4th grade students.  It was a multi-week lesson. During the first lesson, we read Snowflake Bentley, studied some of Bentley’s photos, and watched videos about Wilson’s photography and the process of snowflake creation.  In the second lesson we reviewed symmetry, watched a video about high-speed snowflake photography, and began the snowflake design process. In the last lesson we reviewed the engineering design process to allow my young engineers plenty of time to design, reflect, and create their snowflakes. 

In the slide show below you will find some awesomely “cool” snowflakes that my students created using pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, cotton swabs, pony beads, and glue. 

A link to my lesson is here: Snowflake Bentley – Literature & STEM Activity [please make copy]

Feel free to use my lesson, but please give me credit. I have included links to Carly and Adam’s website so that you may purchase their lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers or join their STEM Teacher Club.   If you try the lesson with your students, please let me know how it went!

Our Table STEM Challenge

In October, my students enjoyed learning about U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomoyor by reading her picture book biography, Turning Pages: My Life Story, and completing the Carly and Adam Tower of Knowledge STEM Challenge.   

Since I am a long-time reader of Peter H. Reynolds’ books, I had pre-ordered Our Table as soon as I found out about it, and received it on its book birthday in early November.  I thought it would be a good story to share with my students during Thanksgiving week, when my students would have a special meal with their families.  Because the Tower of Knowledge STEM challenge was so successful, I was inspired to create a similar STEM challenge for my students to help them extend their learning.

Our Table is a reminder that our family time together is precious and in the book, Peter asks us to “rediscover the gift of time shared together.”  The message of this picture book is particularly poignant to me because my four children have all grown and flown from the nest.  The times that I do have all four of my children around the table is precious to me.  The publication of Our Table was ten days before my father passed away, and knowing that we will never share a meal with him again added to the importance of its message to my family.

In my media lesson, I focused on students finding a text-to-life connection with Our Table and  reflecting upon how their own family shares a meal at their table, discussing Peter’s use of color to visually explain the separation Violet was feeling and her happiness when they came back together.

Lesson slides: Our Table STEM Challenge. You are welcome to make a copy of my lesson plan, but please give me credit.

My friend Georgann made a tiny table for me to use as a prop when I read the book to my students and it helped them to make a connection with the idea of the disappearing table.

The STEM challenge was simple: build a table that could hold a can of vegetables with only 6 index cards and masking tape.  Since I was doing this challenge with my 2nd graders, I did not give them a specific limit on the tape, but none of the teams used more than 18 inches.  If I were  to do this challenge for upper elementary students, I would limit tape to 12 inches in 6-inch increments (and encourage them to use the least amount of tape that they can).

For more lesson ideas using Peter H. Reynolds’ books, please click here for the Scholastic Activity Guide.

If you use my lesson, or create your own, I hope you will share your thoughts with me!

Watch my blog for future literacy-based STEM and STEAM challenges!